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Gold continued its year-long consolidation in a range centered roughly around $1,800 per ounce. U.S. interest rates, the U.S. dollar, and the U.S. Federal Reserve (the “Fed”) remain gold’s dominant drivers. Based on U.S. interest rate futures prices, on 3 January the market was anticipating the first Fed rate increase in May, with 77 basis points (bps) of tightening expected by year-end. Over the course of the month, markets priced in an increasingly hawkish Fed following the release of the minutes from the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, Fed Chairman Powell’s congressional confirmation hearing, and the January FOMC policy meeting. As a result, expectations are now anticipating a March lift-off in U.S. rates and increases that would total at least 100 bps of tightening this year. This caused both interest rates and the U.S. dollar to trend higher, with 10-year U.S. treasuries making fresh two-year highs.
All of this is ostensibly negative for gold prices. However, the gold market trended to its high for the month of $1,853 on 25 January in choppy trading. Gold’s resilience didn’t last, when on 26 January Chairman Powell’s comments following the FOMC meeting caused the U.S. dollar index to break out to near-term highs and gold took a tumble—ending the month at $1,797.17 for a $32.03 (1.8%) loss. Gold stocks mimicked gold’s trend higher, then fell to end the month with losses of 5.7% for the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index (GDMNTR)1 and 8.6% for the MVIS Global Junior Miners Index (MVGDXJTR).2
One of the defining characteristics of the lackluster gold market of the past year has been redemptions from gold bullion exchange traded products. The outflows indicate a lack of investment demand, particularly from institutional investors. However, on 21 January, SPDR Gold Shares (GLD), the world’s largest gold ETF, recorded its biggest inflow ever in dollar terms, worth $1.63 billion. In tonnage terms it was the largest inflow since 21 September 2020. The deceleration in outflows shown on the chart suggests most of the selling pressure has passed, while the recent large inflow might mean that investment demand is picking up.
Source: Bloomberg. Data as of 2 February, 2022. Not a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Past performance is not indicative of future results.
While bullion ETF investment demand has been lackluster, the World Gold Council’s (WGC) Gold Demand Trends report for 2021 shows every other source of gold demand has been gaining.
Soon quantitative easing (QE) will be over and the Fed will begin raising rates. While Washington will always spend copious amounts of other people’s money, it looks like the multi-billion dollar stimulus packages are over, too. Through QE, the Fed has crowded out the private sector, funding over 50% of the entire government borrowing requirements since 2010. The Fed also holds over 30% of all federally insured mortgage-backed securities. All of this stimulus has distorted markets and the pricing signals they send to investors. For example, the yield curve has flattened at a time of increasing inflation expectations, which is the opposite of what happened in past inflationary cycles. The last time real rates were as deeply negative as in 2021 was 1974, a year when the S&P 500 Index (SPXTR)3 fell 37%. However, in 2021, the same stimulus-fueled index gained 29%.
The realization of an economy without stimulus caused many major stock indices to decline in January. The New-Year’s volatility looks like a precursor to a year of extraordinary uncertainty as the financial system attempts to transition back to normal. The transition, if successful, will take years of 25 basis point rate changes and disposal of trillions in treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. We doubt the system can get back to normal without more and possibly extreme market volatility along with some unintended consequences.
So far, gold has sidestepped the market’s volatility. Its January performance was boring, just hanging around $1,800 as it has done for over a year now. In such a market, perhaps boring is good. However, we expect to see more from gold in 2022. We expect it to outperform as the risks around a tightening Fed play out and as other inflation drivers continue to mount.
The Wall Street Journal reports port congestion is expanding to the East Coast while the queue of vessels waiting to enter southern California ports reached a record in January. U.S. firms’ semiconductor chip inventory has declined further to less than five days. McDonald’s Corp. said it expects the rate of cost increases for food, paper and other materials in the U.S. to roughly double this year. Also, most foreign business investment is not going into increasing production. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development showed the number of new projects to expand capacity falling in 2021 to remain far below their 2019 level. Foreign investment is being used to purchase existing business, rather than greenfields projects that expand manufacturing.
The last pandemic that was comparable in terms of lethality broke out over a century ago and was accompanied by World War I, but it’s arguably the only pandemic we have for comparison. The spending on the war can probably be roughly equated to the spending to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Inflation surged to 18% in 1918, 14.6% in 1919, and 15.6% in 1920. While we don’t expect double digit inflation in this post-pandemic cycle, if inflation simply remains elevated for several years, the financial system will not be able to return to normal for an extended period. This could be shaping up to be an environment where gold and gold stocks are able to shine.
1NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index (GDMNTR) is a modified market capitalization-weighted index comprised of publicly traded companies involved primarily in the mining for gold.
2MVIS Global Junior Gold Miners Index (MVGDXJTR) is a rules-based, modified market capitalization-weighted, float-adjusted index comprised of a global universe of publicly traded small- and medium-capitalization companies that generate at least 50% of their revenues from gold and/or silver mining, hold real property that has the potential to produce at least 50% of the company’s revenue from gold or silver mining when developed, or primarily invest in gold or silver.
3S&P 500 Index (SPXTR) is a stock market index tracking the performance of 500 large companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States
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