Is The Junior Mining Sector About To Implode?

Fri, Apr 21, 2017 - 2:43pm

Understand this is just one trading and investing Parrot’s opinion, but I have read numerous interpretations/spins/takes on the GDXJ rebalancing, the JNUG implications, and none of them have seemed to me to honestly get to the core issues or implications of this major event as regards the immediate future of the junior mining sector (and possibly the entire sector as a whole, in the short-term). So in this piece I thought I would lay out, part by part and fact by fact, what I think might be implications that nobody is really talking about, either because they have vested interests in the sector and are afraid of spooking investors, or because they simply haven’t thought through the implications or imagined what may happen if the dominoes fall. Understand that this is speculative, but also understand that to dismiss this thesis, you must factually explain why the ‘cause and effect’ I am about to lay out will not take place. It is not my intention to discourage or frighten people, simply to warn them of a possibility that seems to me to be entirely realistic based on current fact and evidence. If I am wrong or in error, I gratefully welcome different interpretations of the data- the entire point of this is for all of us to do well in the end!

The Summary Case in a Nutshell:

  1. GDXJ, which already is 5% GDX (not juniors) and contains other significant holdings that are not really juniors as well, has now announced a rebalancing June 17th whereby they will be selling a long list of smaller junior miners (and not buying more) and adding larger-cap companies to their index. In short, this “junior mining” ETF is becoming essentially “10% large miners, 50% mid-cap producers, 40% larger juniors” ETF. The juice that used to be provided by the smaller miners is now either gone or at least largely diluted.
  2. This announcement will hit a big list of small mining companies in two ways. First is the obvious disgorging of GDXJ shares (representing 2.6 billion dollars of selling, or about 6-8 trading days-worth of share volume per company, all selling that has to be absorbed the market). The second, however, is the double-whammy this has on each of these companies in that (a) individual investors are/will sell their shares in anticipation of this, and (b) it will discourage future investment in these companies since everyone knows you cannot count on that big flow of GDXJ money ever coming back in to these stocks. This will depress the entire sector as a whole to some degree. Say goodbye to that easy pension, casual investor, and 401k money. From now on, those companies are niche investor targets only. Bad sign.
  3. JNUG, the 3x ETF based on GDXJ, has been the “risky bet” trading vehicle of choice for traders who want high risk/high reward exposure to gold, so much so that JNUG is now a 1.2 billion dollar behemoth. JNUG, however, leaks value vs the underlying GDXJ over time and this is reflected by a forthcoming 1 for 4 reverse split in the shares. It is feared that this split may signal even more leakage, putting traders on edge.
  4. The GDXJ rebalancing away from the juniors means that going forward, JNUG will not offer anywhere near the “juice” to traders it once did in terms of 3x exposure to the potentially fast-moving small junior stocks. Without this additional pop, why trade or hold JNUG? Why be in this leaky vehicle where the underlying GDXJ has torpedoed its underlying portfolio by (a) announcing its sales ahead of time and (b) essentially moving away from the very thing (exposure to the potentially high-flying small companies) that once made it attractive? These things will likely cause traders to move away from an increasingly sluggish JNUG.
  5. If traders leave JNUG, it will be devastating to GDXJ- the swaps and futures that allow JNUG to function represent roughly HALF the market cap of the 5.3 billion dollar GDXJ. If traders decide JNUG is no longer the rocketship it once was and hence is not worth the trouble, and just 20% quit trading JNUG, this is the equivalent of half a billion dollars fleeing GDXJ… if 40% quit trading JNUG, it’s the equivalent of a billion dollars exiting GDXJ. These types of outflows, in a short period of time, could mean serious price carnage in such a small sector.
  6. The thesis of this piece is that this chain of developments has the potential to devastate the junior miners in the short run, coming on top of the effects of the GDXJ rebalancing.

What did they know, and when did they know it?

This decision didn’t happen overnight. The folks who run GDXJ had to have made this choice, and understood the potentially deadly ramifications for the entire sector, quite some time ago. I think I know when.

Back in February I saw something in the charts that truly baffled me, a disconnect of a magnitude that I haven’t seen in 15 years of pouring over gold, silver, and mining charts on a near daily basis. There was a startlingly odd disconnect between the miners and the metals, when from Feb 10- Feb 26 Gold was up 3.6% yet the juniors were down 8%!!!

This bizarre, counterintuitive move was capped off by the big smash in miners on Monday, Feb 27 when GDXJ was hit for an additional 11% in a single day. When gold is flat over ten trading days, yet the juniors and down a whopping 20% over that same time on no news, something is definitely up. What is interesting is a tidbit our fellow Turdite Murphy sent me. In the final 15 minutes of trading that day of the big drop, Monday Feb 27, 775 million dollars of GDXJ shares changed hands... That is equivalent to the entire average daily volume of shares traded in that ETF in just the final 15 minutes of trading. On “no news”.

This is pure speculation, but I think this time period is when this decision was made- in a rising gold market, the juniors fell by 8% and ultimately 20% for no particularly good reason known publicly. This is when big money got out, and left us holding the bag. Sorry, but we are the last to know and that’s how it works.

The rebalanced GDXLCMCPBSM: The GDX Large Cap+ Mid-Cap Producers+ Bigger Small Miners fund

GDXJ already holds GDX. Everyone has seen the new rebalancing lists by now, but if you haven’t, here are the links.

The GDXJ adds:

The GDXJ drops:

Scotiabank estimates that the 23 new additions will ultimately constitute 63% of GDXJ.

From the above article, here is the quote that should send chills through every owner of a small mining stock: “The fund will see dramatic offloading of current index components to fund the new additions. Scotiabank estimates that the fund could have to sell .6 billion of fund assets, representing approximately 2.5-8% of each individual existing component.” How is a market as small as the juniors supposed to absorb 2.6 billion in selling without major price disruptions? I think this explains the February sell-off… inside money knew this was coming, and already sold.

Let’s be honest: JNUG is a gambler’s ETF

The reason JNUG has grown into a billion dollar ETF is simple- greedy people like me (and you) look at last Spring’s rise and start doing the math, and say “If gold went from 1048 to 1375, I could have bought GLD and made 30%... but JNUG went from 2 bucks to 32”. We start thinking that we can invest 20k and turn the next rip in gold into a 16 bagger in 4 months, and turn that 20k into 0,000. Honestly, we should admit that is the only reason people buy JNUG, and put up with the decay vs. the underlying over time. With the new changes to GDXJ that simply isn’t going to happen anymore. And when people realize this, it will be a problem. Maybe a billion dollar problem.

Scotiabank also estimated that as much as 50% of the 5.3 billion market cap of GDXJ is due to JNUG, and the complex strata of swaps and futures needed to get that 3x leverage to work. If people leave JNUG because GDXJ has turned itself into a boring, vanilla mid-cap fund, and because they cannot in any way reasonably believe they can replicate that stirring 16 bagger we saw last year, then GDXJ could be in deep trouble. If just 20% of “investors” (gamblers) quit JNUG that is a half-billion dollar outflow from GDXJ, at least. If 50% leave it could reasonably be a 1.1 billion outflow from the junior mining sector… and that is ON TOP of the already massive 2.6 billion dollar outflow from the companies on the GDJX “cut list” mentioned above. You see the potential for carnage yet? This just isn’t a big enough sector. In a period of a month or two it simply cannot absorb such outflows without massive price disruptions.

Proof of Concept?

One of these things is not like the others…

Gee, it's almost as if, sometime around April 11-12, something happened that disconnected JNUG (or more specifically, the underlying GDXJ) from the normal flow of market forces affecting the other 3x instruments- something that was truly specific to that instrument, and made it deeply undesirable to investors, who started to flee it in droves....

In addition, JNUG and JDST should mirror each other. Instead, they have started to diverge, by a whopping 5% as of Thursday:

Since the infamous April 11-12 GDXJ rebalancing announcement, coming on top of the looming 1 for 4 reverse split already announced for JNUG, the gap between JNUG and it's supposed opposite JDST continues to widen. As of price at the time of my posting this, in just the last five days the difference between the two has grown to 5.28% in just five trading days!!! Note that during that same time, NUGT and DUST are holding their normal inverse relationship quite closely as they should, so it is just these two... all while gold (even expressed in UGLD) is basically flat. People leaving the miners, and FLEEING the juniors:

When Van Eck announced JNUG "suspension of issuance of new shares" and they added that it might mean that it will trade "at a premium to NAV", I posted here at the time that they did this to try and hold the short sellers at bay if they could, and to stem or somewhat manage the carnage they saw coming. The premium to NAV bit was just misdirection to pretty it up. This attempt to artificially prop up JNUG likely accounts for the 5% + difference between JNUG and JDST...

So without the prop of not issuing new shares, only buying back - thus shrinking supply somewhat (which they can only do with cash on hand, till it runs out) then JNUG would be knocking on the door of a 25% drop... Think about that, if JNUG "should have dropped" 23.28% commensurate with JDST's rise, and JNUG swaps and futures represents 50% of the market capitalization of GDXJ, which is 5.3 billion, that is roughly 600 million dollars of market cap flowing out of the junior miners in just the last five days. It hasn't worked it's way through the system yet to truly move price since these are swaps and futures, but it may soon...

Is there a silver (and gold) lining?

Well, if you are a complete optimist you could argue that between the 20% Feb/March drop prior to this becoming public knowledge, and the time since then which has included the above drops in JNUG and GDXJ, that much of this may already be largely priced in. Obviously, I don’t think so, and I believe the effects of the JNUG exodus are yet to be fully felt, but one could make the case that (a) that is overblown and JNUG will keep on trucking because traders don’t care and want their juice, and (b) the GDXJ hit is already largely behind us. So if you are of this mindset, perhaps this is the BTFD moment. Personally, this parrot is not counting on that. Time to batten down the hatches, mateys.

About the Author


Apr 22, 2017 - 9:18pm

@Pining & @Newager23

Thank you, gentlemen. You've inspired me to dig deeper. Looking back at the data, I've noticed and then recalled a very counterintuitive discrepancy between the miners and metals between the days of Wednesday, February 22 and Monday, February 27.

I'll just focus on Gold to keep it simple for now. On Feb. 22nd, Au opened @1236.90 and closed @1233.30. On Feb. 27th, Au opened and closed within $.05 of 1258.85 after having touched it's 200 day moving average ~1265.

During these 4 consecutive trading days, where the spot price increased over $20/oz, here is how those miners noted above behaved:

'Additions' Feb. 22-27 (in decreasing order): Kinross (K.TO) -3.50%; Pan American Silver (PAAS.TO) -6.90%; Yamana Gold (YRI.TO) -3.23%; OceanaGold (OGC.TO) -8.35%; Detour Gold (DGC.TO) -9.02%; Eldorado Gold (ELD.TO) -12.66%; New Gold (NGD.TO) -3.79%; Tahoe Resources (THO.TO) -7.87%; Alamos Gold (AGI.TO) -11.50%; IAMGold (IMG.TO) -8.95; First Majestic (FR.TO) -6.49%; B2Gold (BTO.TO) -12.11%; Pretium Resources (PVG.TO) -15.31%).

'Divestments' Feb. 22-27 (in decreasing order): Kirkland Lake Gold (KL.TO) -10.29%; Silver Standard Resources (SSO.TO) -2.23%; Torex Gold Resources (TXG.TO) -15.71%; Osisko Gold (OR.TO) -5.20%; Centerra Gold (CG.TO) -4.40%; Novagold (NG.TO) -11.69%; Guyana Goldfields (GUY.TO) -11.11%; Fortuna Silver (FVI.TO) -15.70; Semafo (SMF.TO) -12.50; Mag Silver (MAG.TO) -11.89%; McEwen Mining (MUX.TO) -11.51%; Silvercorp (SVM.TO) -16.23%; Sandstorm Gold (SSL.TO) -11.27%; Klondex (KDX.TO) -6.80%; Alacer Gold (-13.51%); Asanko Gold (AKG.TO) -11.75; Seabridge Gold (SEA.TO) -10.11%; China Gold (CGG.TO) -14.05%; Richmont (RIC.TO) -11.79%; Endeavour Silver (EDR.TO) -12.06%; Premier Gold Mines (PG.TO) -16.77%; Contintental Gold (CNL.TO) -13.25%; Wesdome Gold (WDO.TO) -7.67%; First Mining Finance (FF.V) 10.28%; Golden Star (GSC.TO) -12.12%; Teranga Gold (TGZ.TO) -14.56%; Great Panther (GPR.TO) -16.78%; Perseus Mining (PRU.TO) -2.86%; Dundee Precious Metals (DPM.TO) -15.79%; Primero Mining (P.TO) -5.62%.

JNUG, by the way, was down -32.83% over that same time period in which Au was up over $20/oz, while NUGT was down -18.53%, and the HUI -6.32%.

As I recall, this was the discrepancy Dr. P. was all over like white on rice, inferring that a smash in the metals was forthcoming, which, indeed, it was, as both Au (beginning on Mar. 1) and Ag (beginning on Mar. 2) headed downward 4.46% and 8.11% respectively, bottoming out and closing around $1200 and $17 on March 14th.

Edit: I noticed a typo on my earlier post, but time has expired to fix it: First Mining Finance (FF.V) 35.24%, should read -35.24%

Apr 22, 2017 - 9:04pm


I used the links Pining provided above for the companies, and I used to generate the 'PerfCharts', from which I obtained all the data collected above.

Apr 22, 2017 - 7:31pm


What is your source for these figures ? I have been trying to find something like that for many hours now and am either too blind or ignorant to locate this. I had heard that GDXJ/GDX states their changes publicly but cannot find them. Thanks.

edit; let me try this again...the companies you list are from the TD list ? And you are stating their performance since Feb 22 ? If true, WOW, that's a lot of work, and THANKS !

However, these are not "actual" additions/divestures as reported by VanEck as to the actual (changes of) holdings of GDXJ ??

Sorry for the clumsiness of my questioning...I have been researching for hours now and am getting cloudy. Thank you Sir !

Apr 22, 2017 - 7:09pm

Original article...

This was the first article I saw which had spoken of the challenges GDXJ may face. It is a Bloomberg article and is the farthest back-dated article I can currently find.

There is mention of "changes", and there is a link. When I try to access this link it will not allow me in because I have no Bloomberg terminal. If anyone here has this access I'd love to know what these "changes" are. Here is the quote...

"On Thursday, MVIS Index Solutions, a VanEck company, announced changes to its equity indexes, widening the criteria for inclusion into the gauge that is tracked by VanEck’s junior gold miner ETF. "

It further goes on to say; “The index provider is loosening the criteria and making it more inclusive in order to deal with the liquidity and capacity issues,” .

I suspect that these are related to the recent changes released by MVIS Index Solutions (another VanEck Company) stated here; dated April 13, and here, dated April 21.

I have difficulty understanding the specifics related in the above "official" releases but none of it seems to signal a need or plan to offload/sell junior miners. What I have read so far seems to point to the idea that they are going to expand inclusion into the GDXJ to mid/larger cap mining stocks to accommodate the inflow of funds. This seems to make more sense to me than the "selling" of Junior miners.

Okay, I'm brain hurts...taking a break now. If folks have some thoughts/ideas please please contradict me or validate...either way, more info is better !

Apr 22, 2017 - 6:30pm


Those are stunning numbers if investors were front running GDXJ all the way from February. The announcement wasn't until April 13th. I'm not sure if investors really grasped that these so called downweighted stocks were in play since February. One thing that is stunning is that many of these stocks have already been beat up, yet the real selling hasn't even started.

Apr 22, 2017 - 6:22pm


1. Do I sell all my reduce list miners and buy back in after June 17th?

2. Or do I sell my junior miners and buy into the medium cap add list?

3. Or do I sell my junior miners and to my large list of micro and junior miners that aren't on either list?

Selling juniors and waiting to buy them at a lower share price is a risky move (especially if you like your stocks and want to hold them for the long term). This year has been similar to last year, when gold closed above $1300 on June 13th. If we look at the gold and silver charts, it appears they are currently trending up for 2017. At this time, I don't expect gold to drop below $1200 or silver below $17 in the next 8 weeks. Moreover, at some point in the next 8 weeks, I think they will go higher than the 2017 highs.

If you own some of the stocks projected to get downweighted, you could swap them for other stocks. This is especially true if you do not like the downweighted stocks that much. This could turn out to be a good way to hedge, especially if you do not like 20% corrections. I agree with Pining that many of these downweighted stocks could get hammered if gold prices do not rise in May or June.

I also have to agree with BillHilly that these downweighted lists are speculation. None of these lists have come from VanEck. That said, I would not be surprised if these lists are pretty accurate.

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Apr 22, 2017 - 6:21pm

Wow! Great data infometron!

That is quite revealing, especially since price has been supported by rise in gold, geopolitical tension w/china, lil Kim nuke and missile threats, etc. It could have been even worse.

If I were CEO of one of the "disinvested" miners from GDXJ, I would feel I owed it to all my shareholders to contact the SEC and demand a full investigation of just who was behind all those Feb trades front running this rebalancing by GDXJ. If I actually served my shareholders, that is...

Apr 22, 2017 - 5:48pm

The (purported) ins and outs of GDXJ since 2016/12/23

I generated the PerfCharts for the (purported) GDXJ additions and divestments (only for those companies on the Toronto Exchanges), but after a frustrating hour of trying to post them here, I've given up. Hopefully uploading image files will be much more straightforward with the new website.

Bottom line for 'Additions' since February 22 (in decreasing order): Kinross (K.TO) +5.24%; Pan American Silver (PAAS.TO) -2.36%; Yamana Gold (YRI.TO) +8.29%; OceanaGold (OGC.TO) +10.35%; Detour Gold (DGC.TO) -3.4%; Eldorado Gold (ELD.TO) +1.25%; New Gold (NGD.TO) +8.79%; Tahoe Resources (THO.TO) +2.58%; Alamos Gold (AGI.TO) -2.75%; IAMGold (IMG.TO) +1.39; First Majestic (FR.TO) -3.43%; B2Gold (BTO.TO) -15.98%; Pretium Resources (PVG.TO) -5.16%).

Aside from BTO, and to a minor extent, PAAS, FR and PVG, not too bad, all in all.

Bottom line for 'Divestments' since February 22 (in decreasing order): Kirkland Lake Gold (KL.TO) -1.09%; Silver Standard Resources (SSO.TO) -0.21%; Torex Gold Resources (TXG.TO) -16.03%; Osisko Gold (OR.TO) 0.00%; Centerra Gold (CG.TO) +8.57%; Novagold (NG.TO) -22.90%; Guyana Goldfields (GUY.TO) -4.28%; Fortuna Silver (FVI.TO) -18.73; Semafo (SMF.TO) -16.35; Mag Silver (MAG.TO) -19.66%; McEwen Mining (MUX.TO) -20.77%; Silvercorp (SVM.TO) -21.09%; Sandstorm Gold (SSL.TO) -3.29%; Klondex (KDX.TO) -34.78%; Alacer Gold (-23.10%); Asanko Gold (AKG.TO) -17.98; Seabridge Gold (SEA.TO) +4.87%; China Gold (CGG.TO) -34.78%; Richmont (RIC.TO) -5.51%; Endeavour Silver (EDR.TO) -32.47%; Premier Gold Mines (PG.TO) -7.23%; Contintental Gold (CNL.TO) -36.64%; Wesdome Gold (WDO.TO) -6.02%; First Mining Finance (FF.V) 35.24%; Golden Star (GSC.TO) -22.31%; Teranga Gold (TGZ.TO) -31.31%; Great Panther (GPR.TO) -37.26%; Perseus Mining (PRU.TO) -3.03%; Dundee Precious Metals (DPM.TO) -20.67%; Primero Mining (P.TO) -20.88%.

Aside from CG, SEA, and OR, every one of these companies is in the red, and aside from a handful, most are down well over 10%, with 7 down more than 30%.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there is definitely a very big effect in the works...

Edit: I thought I'd picked Feb. 23rd, but a closer look indicates these values are from Feb. 22nd. I could run the numbers again, but the charts don't look much different, aside from a systemic reduction of a percentage point or two overall.

Apr 22, 2017 - 5:38pm


First off, you should know that this article is simply to point out a scenario that I consider possible- I'm a small fish, just trying to think through implications of what has been made known publicly. I'm certainly not "advising", we all have to chart our own paths here based on our personal situation, other investments, risk tolerance, investing timeline, etc. Think of this article as someone calling out "Hey! Y'all think of this?" and act or don't as you see fit.

There are really two questions in your post- what to buy and when to buy. If you think the scenario I outline above is plausible you could, for example, wait for 1-2 months and see if prices drop considerably then bargain shop amongst the best of the former GDXJ stocks. You could see if the contagion spreads across the sector and buy others that are well-positioned fundamentals or production-wise from a great analysts service like (I'm a member, it's well worth it). Or you could simply not sell a thing, just hedge your current holdings a little through DUST or JDST until this period of possible trouble has passed... lots of ways to play this. That is, if you buy the thesis of this piece, that between the GDXJ outflows and JNUG becoming less attractive, we could see some serious money leave the juniors in the short-term. Long term, I'm with Newager- price of gold will win out, and there are many bargains already. It's just a matter of timing and strategy.

But if this stuff happens, the short-term mis-pricing could provide great opportunity. Something to consider, anyway.

Apr 22, 2017 - 3:35pm

I'm with you billhilly

Regarding doubt of the specific stocks designated as adding or subtracting and their specific percentages I've seen. I believe there is some realignment/adjustments to be made, but am hard pressed to believe the GDXJ managers would announce this so far ahead of time. Of the six PM stocks I own, 2 are on the subtract list, and 4 are on the add list. Honestly, the ones on the add list are doing just as poorly as the ones on the subtract list, -so there goes that theory.

Furthermore, I can't see throwing away the solid fundamentals of some of these juniors just because there is going to be some "selling" (as if the selling hasn't already occurred on the rumor of selling). Some smart money folks are probably buying them (maybe some smart turdites). When there is opportunity, someone/somebody will step forward, perhaps another ETF that buys the non-GDXJ real juniors. That would make a nice stock symbol: GDXRJ.

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