Hard Assets Alliance was created as a cooperative of investment professionals who believe there’s a better way to invest in precious metals. This is a guest perspective on the markets from one of these partners; we hope you enjoy it.
The dollar price of gold has been on a roller-coaster ride for the past six years. But the past six weeks have been a turbocharged version of that. Investors should expect more of the same for reasons explained below.
The six-year story is the more important for investors and also the more frustrating. Gold staged an historic bull market rally from 1999 to 2011, going from about $250 per ounce to $1,900 per ounce, a 650% gain.
Then, gold nose-dived into a bear market from 2011 to 2015, falling to $1,050 per ounce in December 2015, a 45% crash from the peak and a 51% retracement of the 1999-2011 bull market. (Renowned investor Jim Rogers once told me that no commodity goes from a base price to the stratosphere without a 50% retracement along the way. Mission accomplished!)
During that precipitous decline after 2011, gold hit a level of $1,417 per ounce in August 2013. It was the last time gold would see a $1,400 per ounce handle until last month when gold briefly hit $1,440 per ounce on an intra-day basis. At last, the six-year trading range was broken. Better yet, gold hit $1,400 on the way up, not on the way down.
The range-bound trading from 2013 to 2019 was long and tiring for long-term gold investors. Gold had rallied to $1,380 per ounce in May 2014, $1,300 per ounce in January 2015, and $1,363 per ounce in July 2016 (a post-Brexit bounce).
But, for every rally there was a trough. Gold fell to $1,087 per ounce in August 2015 and $1,050 per ounce in December 2015. The bigger picture was that gold was trading in a range. The range was approximately $1,365 per ounce at the top and $1,050 per ounce at the bottom, with lots of ups and downs in between. Yet, nothing seemed capable of breaking gold out of that range.
The good news is that gold has now broken out to the upside. The $1,440 per ounce level is well within reach and the $1,400 per ounce level seems like a solid floor, despite occasional dips into $1,390 per ounce territory.
More importantly, a new multi-year bull market has now emerged. Turning points from bear to bull markets (and vice versa) are not always recognized in real time because investors and analysts are too wedded to the old story to see that the new story has already started.
But, looking back it’s clear that the bear market ended in December 2015 at the $1,050 per ounce level and a new bull market, now in its fourth year, is solidly intact. The recent break-out to the $1,440 per ounce level is a strong 37% gain for the new bull market. This price break-out has far to run. (The 1971 – 1980 bull market gained over 2,100%, and the 1999 – 2011 bull market gained over 650%).
The price action over the past six weeks has been even wilder than the price action over the past six years. As late as May 29, 2019, gold was languishing at $1,280 per ounce. Then it took off like a rocket to $1,420 per ounce by June 25, 2019, an 11% gain in just four weeks.
Gold just as quickly backed-down to $1,382 per ounce on July 1, rallied back to $1,418 per ounce on July 3, and fell again to $1,398 per ounce on July 5. These daily price swings of 1.5% are the new normal in gold. Again, the good news is that the $1,400 per ounce floor seems intact.
What’s driving the new gold bull market?
From both a long-term and short-term perspective, there are three principal drivers: geopolitics, supply and demand, and Fed interest rate policy; (the dollar price of gold is just the inverse of dollar strength. A strong dollar = a lower dollar price of gold, and a weak dollar = a higher dollar price of gold. Fed rate policy determines if the dollar is strong or weak).
The first two factors have been driving the price of gold higher since 2015 and will continue to do so. Geopolitical hot spots (Korea, Crimea, Iran, Venezuela, China and Syria) remain unresolved and most are getting worse. Each flare-up drives a flight-to-safety that boosts gold along with Treasury notes.
The supply/demand situation remains favorable with Russia and China buying over 50 tons per month to build up their reserves while global mining output has been flat for five years.
The third factor, Fed policy, is the hardest to forecast and the most powerful on a day-to-day. In July they cut rates. Who knows what they will do the next time they meet.
U.S. growth slowed in the second-quarter to 1.3% (according to the most recent estimate) from an annualized 3.1% in the first-quarter of 2019. Inflation continues to miss the Fed’s target of 2.0% year-over-year and has been declining recently. Trade war fears are adding to a global growth slowdown.
On the other hand, the June employment report showed strong job creation, continued wage gains, and increase labor force participation. All of those indicators correspond to higher future inflation under Fed models. The G20 summit between President Trump and President Xi of China led to a truce in the U.S.-China trade war and the prospect of continued talks to end the trade war.
A good headline on trade results in a stronger dollar and weaker gold. The next day, a bad headline on growth results in a weaker dollar and stronger gold.
This dynamic explains the erratic up-and-down price movements of the past few weeks. The dynamic is likely to continue.
With so much uncertainty and volatility in the dollar price of gold lately, what is the prospect for a rally in precious metals prices and stocks that track them?
Right now, my models are telling us that the gold rally will continue.
Expectations for a 50bp (0.5%) rate cut in September will start to build.
That new forward expectation will power gold higher.
That covers gold. But what about silver?
Many investors assume there is a baseline silver/gold price ratio of 16:1. They look at the actual silver/gold price ratio of 100:1 and assume that silver is poised for a 600% rally to restore the 16:1 ratio. These same investors tend to blame “manipulation” for silver’s underperformance.
That analysis is almost entirely nonsense. There is no baseline silver/gold ratio. (The “16:1 ratio” is an historical legacy from silver mining lobbying in the late 19th century, a time of deflation, when farmers and miners were trying to ease the money supply by inflating the price of silver with a legislative link to gold.
The result was “bimetallism,” an early form of QE. The ratio had nothing to do with supply/demand, geology, or any other fundamental factor. Bimetallism failed and was replaced with a strict gold standard in 1900).
This does not mean there is no correlation between gold and silver prices. As Chart 1 below reveals, there is a moderately strong correlation between the two. The coefficient of determination (expressed as r2) is 0.9.
This means that over 80% of the movement in the price of silver can be explained by movements in the price of gold. The remaining silver price factors involve industrial demand unrelated to gold prices.
Recently, a huge gap has opened up between the rally in gold prices (shown in blue on Chart 1 with a right-hand scale) compared to silver prices (shown in orange on Chart 1 with a left-hand scale).
Given the historically high correlation between gold and silver price movements, and the recent lag in the silver rally, the analysis suggests that either gold will fall sharply or silver will rally sharply.
Since I have articulated the case for continued strength in gold prices, my expectation is that gold will continue to outpace silver.
Either way, I think both metals are heading higher.