Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

New York — This year has not been kind to precious-metal stock pickers at the world’s biggest asset manager, but their luck may be about to turn.

The $1.3bn BlackRock gold and general fund lost 15% in the last quarter, its worst performance since the third quarter of 2015. Among large materials-focused equity funds, it was the second-worst performer after another BlackRock gold fund domiciled in Japan.

BlackRock was not alone in suffering losses on its gold investments in the first quarter, with AMG and Franklin funds both losing more than 9%.

While the price of gold has edged higher in 2018 and producer earnings are improving, investors are seeking higher returns in flashier industries such as electric-vehicle commodities and cryptocurrencies at a time of rising interest rates and accelerating global growth.

"Recent relative performance of the fund has been disappointing," Tom Holl, a money manager at BlackRock, said. "A contributor to this performance in 2018 has been the underperformance of the royalty companies, which the fund has exposure to."

While the New York-based firm declined to disclose the fund’s current holdings, as of January 31 it owned shares in Franco-Nevada Corporation and Wheaton Precious Metals, and in producers Newcrest Mining and Randgold Resources.

Newcrest slumped 14% in the quarter, dragged down by a tailings dam breach at its Cadia mine, while Randgold lost 21% amid the prospect of increased taxes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Franco-Nevada and Wheaton fell 13% and 5.5%, respectively, in Toronto.

The fund’s outlook may be getting better. Goldman Sachs in March raised its recommendation on Randgold and turned bullish on gold for the first time in five years. Analysts cited higher inflation, rising emerging market wealth and concerns about an equity correction for the sentiment shift.

"Elevated volatility, a weaker dollar and developing trade rhetoric could all serve as catalysts for higher gold prices," according to a March 28 Bloomberg Intelligence note.