Gold: What’s Next?
After an initial surge in the hours after Donald Trump’s election, the price of gold has been under pressure. To gauge what’s ahead for the yellow metal, we dissect the forces that may be at play.
We have argued in the past that for investors to consider any investment, including gold, in their portfolio, it needs to satisfy two conditions: it needs to exhibit low correlation to their existing investments; and there should be an expectation of a positive return. Let’s evaluate the changing investment landscape for gold in the context of the election:
Gold as a diversifier?
Since 1971, the price of gold has had a zero correlation to the S&P 500 index based on our analysis (-0.016 based on daily returns, to be precise). From that point of view, gold may be a long-term diversifier. That said, there are times when the correlation is positive; others when it is negative:
The traditional way to look at a portfolio is one that contains both equities and bonds. As such, let’s also look at the correlation of gold versus bonds: since 1971, that correlation is 0.024, i.e. also quite low. However, if you look at the chart below, you will see that the correlation to bonds has been at historical highs of late:
We will talk more about bonds below when we discuss fundamental drivers, but as far as whether the relatively high correlation to bonds of late will persist – if history is any guide, it may well fizzle out rather soon.
Differently said, when it comes to gold as a diversifier, we believe the long-term case is strong, but some investors may not appreciate it when correlations to equities or bonds flares up.
In the past, we have said gold may well be one of the ‘easiest’ diversifiers, meaning gold is easier to wrap one’s head around than, say, a long/short equity or currency strategy that, by design, may also have a near zero correlation to other asset classes. But that ‘easy’ diversification comes with a price: the low correlation isn’t stable, and there are times when correlation can be elevated.
Gold in a market downturn
Staying on the theme of gold as a potential diversifier, the price of gold has had a positive return in each bear market in equities since 1971, with the notable exception of what I might call the Volcker-induced bear market when interest rates were rose substantially:
We will talk about interest rates in a second, but let me explain a fundamental reason why gold might have performed well in each of these bear markets: in an era where “risk premia” are compressed, i.e. where prices of risky assets – be that junk bonds or equity prices – are elevated, we believe those prices are vulnerable should risk premia rise once again. That is, if for whatever reason, the market is allowing risk once again to be priced more highly into assets, it could provide major headwinds to both stocks and bonds. As a result, gold, with its low correlation to risk assets, might shine in a bear market.
Gold to provide positive returns?
While investors may appreciate diversification, they may appreciate positive returns even more. We have had a notable selloff in bonds since the election; and, as one can see from above, the price of gold has, of late, been correlated to those of bonds. So what is going on?