Gold prices have rallied more than 15% since the beginning of the year, making it the second-best performing commodity after lumber this year. But the Federal Reserve’s dovish actions and profit-taking have put the rally on hold over the past month as investors shifted back into equities and bonds. The whipsaw price action has caused some investors to reevaluate their gold holdings, particularly in leveraged exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Below, CommodityHQ.com takes a look at how the Federal Reserve has impacted gold prices and where they may be headed during the remainder of the year.
Yellen Takes a Lighter Tone
The Federal Reserve seemed committed to steadily raising interest rates late last year, but sluggish global growth and low oil prices have shaken its confidence.
During its March 16 meeting, the central bank opted to keep interest rates steady and reduced the number of anticipated rate hikes this year from four to two. These dovish actions sent gold prices lower as investors shifted capital into equities and bonds. A couple of weeks later, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen expressed concern over the global economy and commodity prices, saying that the central bank would “proceed cautiously.”
She further indicated that the Federal Reserve would expand its bond purchases and swaps if the economy worsens, but didn’t mention the possibility of negative interest rates. Over the past year, the Bank of Japan joined the European Central Bank in implementing negative interest rates in an effort to combat deflation. The success of these policies remains widely debated, but few options remain for central banks lacking fiscal support.
Many Wall Street analysts interpreted these comments as a sign that the Federal Reserve made a mistake with its late-2015 lift off. In fact, some analysts are skeptical that interest rates will rise at all this year, unless there was a meaningful turnaround in the global economy. The primary drivers of this turnaround would have to be an improvement in China’s economy and a rebound in crude oil prices to bolster the global energy sector.
Gold Supply & Demand Dynamics
The Federal Reserve’s dovish commentary may have sent gold prices marginally lower, but they remain significantly higher than their early 2016 levels.
Gold prices have significantly outpaced many other precious metals such as silver and platinum, despite their historical correlation. According to some analysts, traders may engage in some profit-taking at these levels in the absence of any catalysts. This profit-taking could result in short-term declines or sideways price movements as the market balances out, although a significant drop in gold prices appears less likely to occur.
The long-term picture remains a bit more bullish for gold prices. Any weakness in gold prices could encourage physical gold buying from India and China, while geopolitical uncertainty surrounding central bank efficacy and terrorist attacks could provide further catalysts. Gold may not yield anything for investors, but in an era of near-zero or negative interest rates, investors may not be able to get much yield elsewhere anyway.
Finally, gold ETF inflows have increased the demand side of the equation over the long-term as investors brace for a prolonged low-yield world. According to ETF media outlets, the SPDR Gold ETF (GLD) saw $220,580,000 in capital inflows throughout the month of March and more than $5 billion worth of inflows so far this year. GLD and many other gold ETFs are physically backed funds, which means they are driving demand for physical gold.
The Bottom Line
Gold prices have moved sideways over the past month after the Federal Reserve issued dovish guidance. With reduced expectations for a rate hike, equities and bonds rallied higher and drew capital away from gold and other precious metals. The short-term picture for gold prices appears to be a bit bearish with some traders taking profits off the table, but the long-term picture remains bullish given geopolitical trends and physical supply-demand economics.