Why are gold prices going down?

Posted in America, Business, Gold Reserves, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on December 18, 2011

The story behind the gut-wrenching US$300 drop in gold prices.

Many ways to skin a cat

Under the guise of ‘modern’ economics, some fundamental truths have not been remembered, over the last 50 years. Importance of gold in the world monetary system is one of these ‘forgotten’ truths.

This has damped down gold prices – and printing presses have been busy printing money. Especially in the last 40 years – after the Nixon Chop.

24 hour coverage of financial markets has also created an impression that financial cycles play out in a matter of hours and days. So also, the the drop in gold prices of the last two weeks.

Many people have been puzzled over the last few months by gold’s (GC2G -0.19%) behavior. It has tumbled since the start of September from around $1,900 an ounce to below $1,600. This has happened even while a financial crisis has erupted in Europe which, says traditional analysis, should be bullish for gold.

But there are a couple of other factors at play.

First: Gold hasn’t fallen as far as it looks. The gold price is typically quoted in U.S. dollars. Yet in the past four months the dollar has rallied.

At the start of September, when gold touched $1,900 an ounce, the dollar was $1.45 to the euro. Since then the euro has slumped to $1.30.

Net result? Gold, which traded at around 1,300 euros per ounce back then, has declined to 1,200 euros per ounce now.

The second factor: Sentiment.

Four months ago, sentiment was massively bullish on gold. It had just skyrocketed, in the wake of the U.S. debt ceiling debacle. According to data published by the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission, speculators and traders had taken nearly record speculative bets that it would rise further.

This usually precedes a backlash, and so it has been.

Today? Sentiment is pretty bearish. The CFTC says the number of speculative bets on higher gold have collapsed by more than a third. (via Will the Europeans have to sell their gold? – Portfolio Insights by Brett Arends – MarketWatch).

A bump on the road

The first 15 days of December, 2011, has seen weakness in gold prices – falling from roughly US$1900 to US$1600. The biggest drop, after ‘gold dropped 25 percent in the fall of 2008 — from over $1,000 an ounce to about $750’. Broad parameters of the situation were similar then – as now.

In 2008, the US economy was tanking, and gold was at psychological barrier of US$1000. This time around gold is at US$2000 psychological mark. And it is feared that the Euro-zone may collapse.

“The worst case scenario (a euro zone break-up) was pretty much ridiculous a year ago but it is now becoming more and more possible, to say the least,” Juan Valencia, credit analyst at Societe Generale, said.

This time around

So, what are the specifics now.

First are the European banks. It is reported

banks face about 320 billion euros in senior and government guaranteed debt redemptions next year. By comparison, they had issued just 12 billion euros of debt in the past six months.

With no solution to the euro zone debt crisis in sight, interbank market players say they are reducing credit lines to an ever increasing number of banks.

“It is utter madness … When we see big names paying 300 basis points over overnight rates for dollars you know something is wrong,” said the head of money markets at a bank in London, who asked not to be named.

“Credit lines have already been reduced, we are seeing the big names paying through the nose for cash from corporates as wholesale is pretty much dead. The focus now is for the core banks to raise cash through the retail/corporate space. Central banks may be called upon.”

French banks’ borrowing from the ECB topped 100 billion euros in the maintenance period ending November 8, compared to 87 billion euros the month before. French banks are more exposed than any those of any other euro zone country to Italian, Spanish and Greek debt, with holdings in excess of 600 billion euros, according to Bank for International Settlements data.

Of the contributors to daily Libor rates, French banks BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale say they pay the most for three-month dollars, around 0.6 percent. But dollar rates have recently been on the rise for other core country banks as well.

In such an environment liquidity is at a premium. Some investors are even taking money out of banks and paying to keep it in short-term German or Dutch government paper, which is trading with negative yields.

Where has all that yellow stuff gone? Buried under a mound of silence?  |  Cartoonist - Dave Simonds on 18-6-2011 in guim.co.uk  |  Click for larger image.

Where has all that yellow stuff gone? Buried under a mound of silence? | Cartoonist – Dave Simonds on 18-6-2011 in guim.co.uk | Click for larger image.

Where is gold coming from

Negative yield brings us to another grey area.

Gold lending at negative rates. Europe has an organized market where gold owners can lend gold to borrowers – at rates varying between 0.5% to 2%. There are ominous whisper-reports.

The partnership between the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank to provide hundreds of billions of relatively low-cost dollars for euro-area banks should have relieved the pressure to come up with greenbacks. Yet gold market people say European commercial banks are being driven to lend gold for dollars at negative interest rates just to raise some extra cash for a few weeks. There’s not a lot of transparency about where the banks are getting the gold they are lending out, but it could be lent to them by either their national central banks or by gold exchange-traded funds.

There is also a third source of gold that is being lent in the market.  Gold that does not belong to any European Governments or to any ETF.

But obtained from deposed Middle East rulers of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

Cash is king

Regardless of the source of gold, the cash situation at European banks remains a trigger for this gold sell-off.

The need for cash has overwhelmed gold’s traditional status as a safe haven in past few months, putting the metal on course for its first quarterly fall since end-September 2008 when the global credit crunch was at its worst.

“With access to liquidity being constrained, market participants have increasing problems to refinance,” Credit Suisse said in a research note. “As a result they have to sell their assets – including precious metals – to raise the much needed cash. This is the main reason why gold prices fall on days of increasing funding stress.”

This has obviously raised concerns in the Asian markets – the main buyers of gold. This extra supply of gold from European banks has led to a sell-off – led by Asian markets.

In recent weeks the gold price has fallen significantly from around $1900 to $1535 (intraday). Gold is now trading near Q3 target of $1650. The size of the move was far more significant compared to other recent unwinds, like those in May or August. One of the key factors for  long-term bullish view on gold is Asian demand – the majority of end-user demand for gold is from Asia. From an Asian valuation perspective, gold is also relatively cheap.

One way to proxy Asian demand for gold is to look at how gold performs during Asian trade. Over the past few years, gold has generally appreciated during Asian hours, reflecting strong demand for the metal. However, recent weeks have shown weakness in Asian hours. On previous occasions when gold traded poorly, such as in May and August, it remained relatively robust during Asian hours, with any sell-off tending to come in London and New York hours, suggesting that Asian investors were supporting an unwind of Western investors’ long gold positions.

This contrasts with the recent fall, noticeable across multiple time zones. In the very short term, we believe a reversal would need to be led by appreciation in Asia. Although a few data points do not constitute a trend, on Tuesday and Thursday gold rose by 2%, its largest moves higher during Asian hours since October 2008 and perhaps a signal that it could be turning back up.

Gold often trades like a risky asset. This has been evident in recent weeks where we have seen a strong positive correlation between gold and the S&P500, which we use as a proxy for risky assets. The rationale is that heavy losses in risky assets forces investors to unwind other positions to free up cash. As a liquid asset and also with heavily extended net long speculative positioning heading into this episode, gold has suffered.

The price-drop also generated sell-orders based on stop-loss triggers at US$1700. For the time being the stampede has abated. Asian markets were at the forefront of some investment demand.

Gold rebounded in thin trading during the Asian session Friday, paring some of this week’s losses with traders expecting gains to hold in the near-term with some dip buying likely amid a modest bounce in stock markets.  The yellow metal rose more than 1% in the session to a high of $1,589.90 a troy ounce after falling for four consecutive days this week.

A Hong Kong-based trader said there is some investment demand, which is driving up prices. Some speculators have also returned to the market after prices fell sharply this week.  Despite the slight improvement in sentiment, however, investors continued to be wary of the European sovereign debt crisis.

There is hardly any dissonance between various reports – which supports a belief that this may have a momentary technical correction before gold breaks the US$2000 per ounce barrier. In a year, where most asset classes have performed badly and market volatility took away whatever little was left on the table, fund managers may have locked in their profits on gold for the year. Remember, this is also the time of the year, when bonuses get calculated. The long-term fundamentals of the gold remain beyond argument.

Even in the short-term, this maybe a buying-opportunity one may regret having missed.

3 Responses

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  1. Vivian Richards said, on May 16, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Gold will keep going down as long as there is debt to be repaid. After all debts of world have been repaid or written off, Gold will appreciate.

    For repaying debts, dollars are needed. Gold cannot be used. Such Demand for dollars will exceed the demand for gold. Untill last debts have been written off, Cash wil be more valued thn gold.

    The process of paying back debt or of writing off debt can take many many years. Gold prices may have to wait some several years before they rise.

    The price of anything in our planet is now determined by the scarcity of cash in our planet. This includes all commodities such as Gold, oil, grains copper etc. as long as cash is needed to pay back student loans, mortgages, government debts etc, all assets will not get bid up anymore.

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on May 17, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Gold will keep going down as long as there is debt to be repaid. After all debts of world have been repaid or written off, Gold will appreciate.

      At least in the last 100 years, Governments have not reduced debts. Debts have only grown. OECD owes nearly US$100 trillion in debt against their GDP of less than US$ 30 trillion. Will this debt ever get repaid? I am willing to bet my last chavanni that this will never happen.

      They will wipe the slate clean with a new currency; deflation; inflation; or a simple default.

      For repaying debts, dollars are needed. Gold cannot be used. Such Demand for dollars will exceed the demand for gold.

      Of this US$100 trillion debt, my estimate is that less than 50% is dollar debt. So, this is not factually correct. Most of British, Indian, German, French debt is NOT in dollars.

      The process of paying back debt or of writing off debt can take many many years. Gold prices may have to wait some several years before they rise.

      You are implying that debt repayment is a newly discovered species of animal. Basically old debt is recycled as new debt. The debt mountain is only growing.

      If debts were being repaid in the last 10 years, how is it that gold prices broke all records.

      The price of anything in our planet is now determined by the scarcity of cash in our planet.

      In the eras of QE-I and QE-II, with Ben Bernanke as Fed Chief, cash is not in shortage. I have idea what data you have that shows the world is facing a cash crunch.

  2. ajamk said, on December 29, 2012 at 1:04 am

    I’ve been following the gold story since around 4 months(yes, new into this). I’ve done lots and lots of reading and here are some of my findings.
    Gold price suppression(gold price suppression means gold+silver suppression. Gold and silver always go hand in hand) has been openly admitted to by Alan Greenspan(as has been shown by GATA) and is one of the main policies of western central banks. Besides this admission, the trilateral commission was formed in 1973 and its main members were the US, UK, Japan and other western European countries. One of their main objectives was to sell gold into the free market to suppress its price and maintain the strength of fiat currencies so that they could pursue their imperial objectives. But the trick worked only for 20 years, between 1980-2002. Gold ETFs were launched around 10 years back and haven’t been successful in suppressing the gold price. Thus the only real way of suppressing the gold price is by supplying the physical metal into the free market. The gold prices have stagnated in the last 1.5 years though and I’ll get back to this later.

    Following recent news many countries have been rushing to repatriate their gold that is being stored in vaults in either the US or the UK. Countries storing their gold in either the US or UK include Venezuela, Australia(England stores 99.9% of aussie gold according to recent news), Germany(2000 of the 3000 tons of its gold is stored by the US,UK and some in France), India!!(200 out of its 550 tons is stored abroad, i wonder how many indians know about this), and even China and many other countries. So it is clear that no central government of any country can back away from the big bully that is the USA and always a part of its gold will eventually leave its shores.
    From these stories it is clear that the people cannot trust the government central banks to either purchase or store gold and the people will have to buy the gold themselves.
    Also one can infer that many of the western governments who own the bulk of the central bank gold in the world do not actually own the amount that they claim as there seems to be a lot of scraping around for a few hundred tons of gold in the recent past.
    So which are the figures which are the most believable??
    India’s import of around 10,000 tons of gold in the last 20 years(after ban on imports was lifted) is the most believable figure as gold in India is generally always traded in the physical form and in high karat jewellery and hence the most believable. If this is the amount in the past 20 years what could be the amount in the last 50 or 70 years?? One cannot say but the amount of gold speculated to be around 30,000 to 35,000 tons in the hands of the Indian people and its temples seems to be the most reliable figure as of now.
    USA had 20,000 tons of gold at its peak after WW2 and in the early 1950’s, which eventually dwindled to 8000 tons in the late 60’s and 1970. After 1970 there has been speculation that much of the US fed bullion had an orangish hue or had been debased into a lower karat with copper and hence had a much lower amount than the 8000 tons mentioned. And recently there has been a ‘tungsten revolution’. Tungsten has pretty much the same density as gold, but it is very hard and of a different colour, so it cannot be stamped like coins or made into high karat jewellery but one can make fake gold dipped tungsten bars which will pass the density test. So one can conclude that most of the ‘western’ central banks have a lot lesser gold than they claim and may have a lot of ‘tungsten bars’.
    I read another article by gold money that shows an historical record of the above ground gold stock. It goes something like this Year 1500 – 300 tons gold, year 1700 – 2000 tons gold, year 1800 – 4000 tons gold, year 1900 – 15000 tons of gold and now it is officially maintained at 170,000 tons, but the organisation believes that this is wrong and the estimate should be around 150,000 tons.
    Something of course seems odd with the 300 tons gold figure in 1500 as India could not have built up a 30,000 reserve in just the recent past. Also it is true that mining technologies have considerably improved in the recent past, but the increase in gold reserves from 4000 tons in 1800 to 150,000 or 170,000 tons now seems a little hard to swallow.
    Also one has to keep in mind that most of this recent gold has come from the ‘new world’ and Africa and China. So the Americas, Australia, and South Africa have been the biggest miners of the metal in the recent past. China has been the biggest miner of the metal among the ‘old world’ countries, with the mining in India, middle east and Europe being very negligible or zero. Although the gold output of Indonesia and the central Asian countries has been high.
    So what can one make of these figures?? Here are some of my suppositions.
    1) The gold figures of pre 1970 USA seems somewhat right, in that they had 20,000 tons after WW2 and 8000 tons before 1970. After 1970 the US govt gold reserves are most likely false, and now they have lost most of their gold.
    2) Since most of the gold mining is controlled by the western countries, with the exception of China, Could the gold mining output be manipulated?? To inflate in terms of numbers the amount of gold present in the world?? Considering China’s poor track record of transparency, could China also be faking its gold output??
    Although it is highly unlikely that countries like Peru, Chile, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, African countries (Excluding South Africa),etc would fake their gold output.
    3) 35,000 or 40,000 tons provides a proper starting point for the world gold reserves with most of it being in India. So what is really the tonnage of the above ground gold?? Nobody knows. Looking at major western governments scraping around for a few thousands of tons of gold common sense may tell that the above ground stocks of gold could well be 60,000 or 70,000 tons in the world.
    4) Assuming all the suppositions above are wrong and also taking into account the history of gold well into antiquity, could the above ground gold tonnage be 700,000 tons instead of 150,000 or 100,000 tons??

    All these are pure speculations. Only time will bring out the reality of the amount of gold above ground present today.

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