Gold, Inflation Expectations and Economic Confidence
Below is an excerpt from a commentary originally posted at www.speculative-investor.com on 2nd November 2014. Also, excerpts from our newsletters and other comments on the markets can be read at our blog.
As a result of what happened during just one of the past twenty decades (the 1970s), most people now believe that a large rise in "price inflation" or inflation expectations is needed to bring about a major rally in the gold price. This impression of gold is so ingrained that it has persisted even though the US$ gold price managed to rise by 560% during 2001-2011 in parallel with only small increases in "price inflation" (based on the CPI) and inflation expectations. The reality is that gold tends to perform very well during periods of declining confidence in the financial system, the economy and/or the official money, regardless of whether the decline in confidence is based on expectations of higher "inflation" or something else entirely.
Inflation expectations are certainly part of the gold story, but only to the extent that they affect the real interest rate. For example, a 2% rise in inflation expectations would only result in a more bullish backdrop for gold if it were accompanied by a rise of less than 2% in the nominal interest rate. For another example, a 1% decline in inflation expectations would not result in a more bearish backdrop for gold if it were accompanied by a decline of more than 1% in the nominal interest rate.
Other parts of the gold story include indicators of economic confidence and financial-market liquidity, such as credit spreads and the yield curve.
The large rises in the gold price are NOT primarily driven by increasing fear of "inflation" is evidenced by the fact that the large multi-year gold rallies of 2001-2006 and 2008-2011 began amidst FALLING inflation expectations. These rallies were set in motion by substantial stock market declines and plummeting confidence in central banks, commercial banks and the economy's prospects. Even during the 1970s, the period when the gold price famously rocketed upward in parallel with increasing fear of "inflation", the gold rally was mostly about declining real interest rates and declining confidence in both monetary and fiscal governance. After all, if the official plan to address a "price inflation" problem involves fixing prices and distributing "Whip Inflation Now" buttons, and at the same time the central bank and the government are experimenting with Keynesian demand-boosting strategies, then there's only one way for economic confidence to go, and that's down.
Since mid-2013 there have been a few multi-month periods when it appeared as if economic confidence was turning down, but on each occasion the downturn wasn't sustained. This is due in no small part to the seemingly unstoppable advance in the stock market. In the minds of many people the stock market and the economy are linked, with a rising stock market supposedly being a sign of future economic strength. This line of thinking is misguided, but regardless of whether it is right or wrong the perception is having a substantial effect on the gold market.
For now, the economic confidence engendered to a large extent by the rising stock market is putting irresistible downward pressure on the gold price.
Nov 2, 2014
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