What Is Really Driving Gold?

The ongoing narrative is that there is a positive correlation between monetary stimulus and the price of gold. However, as you probably know by now, precious metals collapsed during the Fed’s QE to infinity program. The long-term gold chart (first chart below) shows that gold stabilized when the Fed started tapering and around the end of QE, which is very counterintuitive to say the least. That is not to say there is no correlation, but there is definitely not a direct correlation.

This begs the question: what drives gold and the whole precious metals complex?

What humans tend to do is associate ‘events’ with market developments, because we need an ‘explanation’ for everything. Similarly, when trends change, we want to be able to explain why that is happening, and associate it with some sort of ‘event’. This has a drawback, however, as it prevents investors from looking at reality.

To make that point, we have added several “events” to the long term gold chart. Note how gold was rising during QE1 and QE2. When the Fed went ‘all-in’ with its QE to infinity program, gold started to collapse. Clearly, there is no one-to-one correlation between the gold price and ‘the creation of money’, which was widely assumed up to that point.

The clearest driver for gold, in our view, has been inflation expectation. The chart below makes that point. The red line, which represents TIPS (inflation-protected US Treasury bonds), an instrument that reflects real yields for maturities ranging from 5 to 30 years, moves almost perfectly in sync with gold. Similarly, we know meanwhile that disinflation (a slowing level of inflation, not deflation though) is gold’s biggest enemy. That is confirmed by the stabilization of TIPS since mid-2013, which has been preventing gold from rising.

Another thing that stands out on the chart below is that gold does not correlate with interest rates (the grey line). There is a strong narrative currently around interest rate hikes and lower gold prices. The problem with that is the underlying assumption that all other conditions apart from interest rates remain the same, in particular the rate of (dis)inflation. For instance, if interest rates go up in an inflationary environment, we should see gold go up. Remember, it is the interest rate in the context of inflation expectations that drives gold.

A contrarian call: gold could potentially go higher with rising interest rates

We are sensing that higher interest rates could become the next trigger to push precious metals higher in the years ahead. That is a very contrarian call. Our rationale is based on the fact that, if inflation picked up in an environment where the opportunity cost of not holding gold rises, gold would most likely continue its secular bull trend in a big way. 

China is poised to become world's biggest gold consumer.