During the credit crisis and Great Recession, investors could not get enough gold. Demand for the precious metal surged as investors sought gold’s safe haven status. That eventually brought prices up to record highs of nearly $2,000 per ounce. Predictions of $5,000 and even $10,000 per ounce dotted headlines. The SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) became one of the largest exchange traded funds and various funds began paying some pretty rich dividends.
Unfortunately for gold, the bottom dropped out. As the global economy lurched forward, doomsday and lower inflation scenarios never came to fruition. Stocks have continued to move higher, consumer confidence has risen, and jobless rates have declined. All of these factors sapped much of gold’s appeal during the subsequent years following the recession. After peaking, gold sank down to around $1,100 per ounce [see also 50 Ways To Invest In Gold].
However, today, gold appears to be on the move higher. Some cracks are beginning to form in the global economy and some analysts have predicted that the precious metal could have a place in investors’ portfolios in the coming year.
Why Has Gold Moved Higher?
Similar to gold’s moves higher in 2009/2010, today’s increase in gold is all about ambiguity in the global economy. From decreasing economic growth to uncertainty with regards to central bank and government policies, the global economy is beginning to look a bit fragile.
For example, Europe is currently watching history repeat itself.
Recent elections in Greece have once again brought the possibility of the exit of the euro and default on the nation’s high debts. Bailout talks continue, while at the same time, economic growth across the E.U. continues to be muted and even negative in some parts. That has prompted the European Central Bank to undergo a massive quantitative easing program to stimulate growth. Aside from bond buying and stimulus measures, the E.U. has unveiled unprecedented negative interest rates on its overnight deposits. That has caused several nations’ bonds to trade at negative yields.
Miles away in Japan, Shinzo Abe’s policies of stimulus—dubbed Abenomics—have failed to really ignite the Japanese economy. With recovery still fragile there, many analysts have estimated that Abe will need to reload his quiver and fire his arrows again with another round of heavy stimulus measures to keep growth afloat.
Meanwhile, several emerging market nations that thrive on higher oil and commodity prices have begun to implode. Both Brazil and Russia have suffered and have slipped into recession, while China continues to see lower economic growth. The debate between a hard or soft landing continues in Asia’s Dragon economy.
Finally, here in the United States, the continued uncertainty over the Federal Reserve’s decision if and when to raise interest rates continues to weigh heavily on investors and the markets. Recent downticks in consumer spending and confidence have not helped either. Add in the recent collapse in the energy sector—along with all the jobs lost because of it—and the picture for the U.S. is not as rosy as it was a few months ago.
All of this helps explain why gold has risen by about 8% this year.
The Gold Rally Could Continue
On the back of this uncertainty, gold could continue its rally upwards in the near- to long-term. Several fundamental factors are beginning to take shape.
First, supplies of gold are dwindling. As the price crash took place, several miners have abandoned projects, began shutting existing high-cost gold mines and have cut CAPEX/Exploration spending. This has only accelerated a downtrend in new gold discoveries since 1995’s peak. There simply is not as much gold to be had [see also The Top 100 Gold Investing Blogs].
And despite the downturn, demand has actually increased slightly. The rise in demand has come from continued central bank buying as the banks have sought to diversify away from the U.S. dollar as their primary reserve currency. China continues to buy gold en masse as has several other nations. Meanwhile, both China and India’s citizens continue to plow their savings into the precious metal.
Finally, once the Federal Reserve raises rates, gold should rise. A weakening dollar is net positive for gold prices. The uncertainty over when Janet Yellen will finally pull the trigger and increase rates has begun the move upwards, but once the cat is officially out of the bag, gold should rise. All of these factors could help gold move to a range of $1,400- $1,500 an ounce in the next year or so.
Three Ways to Play Gold
Given the yellow metal’s potential value, adding it to a portfolio could be in order. And there’s three basic ways—aside from hoarding bullion or gold coins—to get your gold fix.
Buy The Miners: For investors, the firms that physically dig the stuff out of the ground could be an interesting bet on the price of gold. Gold mining stocks are a way to gain additional leverage from the price of gold. Because of the miners’ fixed production costs, a 1% increase in the price of gold will often equal a greater than 1% increase in their operating income/profits. These nuances give the gold miners a unique risk/return profile relative to physical gold prices. Additionally, gold miners have the ability to do something that gold can’t do – pay a dividend, and when prices for gold were high, many of the miners did just that. Those payouts should return as gold increases [see also Can You Do Better Than GDX In The Gold Mining Space?].
Now, investors still need to evaluate each individual miner before pulling the trigger, as a rise in gold prices won’t help a struggling firm with company-specific problems. However, rising gold is usually great for the sector’s bottom lines.
Buy The Royalty Firms: Want to profit from rising gold prices, but don’t want to get your hands dirty operating a mine? Then the royalty firms could be for you. These firms function in one of two ways: by owning land and allowing other miners to drill for a share of the profits or by providing capital for rights to gold. As a result, royalty firms provide portfolios with lower risks than miners – with virtually zero environmental exposure and no operating and labor costs.
Buy Gold Tracking ETFs: Finally, for a direct play on the price of gold, the gold tracking exchange traded funds (ETFs) still make for a great bet. They basically come in two flavors: physical or futures-based. Physical funds, like the previously mentioned GLD or iShares Gold Trust (IAU), store bullion in a vault on behalf of investors. While futures funds, such as the PowerShares DB Gold ETF (DGL), will own various futures and options contracts on the price of gold. Both offer the ability to play gold prices. However, futures-based ETFs can suffer from backwardation or contango. That can result in underperformance relative to spot gold prices.
The Bottom Line
After being down in the dumps for a few years, gold may finally be shining once again. Several cracks have begun to form in the global economy supporting near-term higher prices. At the same time, several longer term trends are beginning to take shape. For investors, playing gold via the miners, royalty firms or gold-tracking ETFs could be a great buy for the next few years.