So gold bulls are turning bearish. But not really.
"A number of things that would have kept people with an eye on the upside for gold prices have now been neutralized," says RBS's Nick Moore, who cut the state-owned UK bank's 2012 targets for precious metals other than gold in January.
Like the rest of Bloomberg's regular gold-forecaster respondents, Moore says "Everything's beginning to look as if it's turning the corner. . .We've passed the point of maximum despair."
And without despair, gold must be set to fall hard, no? No indeed. "Gold can now settle back," reckons Moore, plumping its pillows for an afternoon snooze.
"The one danger" for gold prices, says British MEP Nigel Farage—who used to trade base metals, and so is less clueless than your average politico—"is that the bullish consensus on gold is now higher than it's been at any time for the last two or three decades." But while that consensus means "the short-term speculative market [might find] itself a bit long of gold," Farage tells King World News, the worst that might happen to gold is "that it could have a dip." Do fetch a towel, would you? At Mineweb, the same story: "Is gold now the contrarian play?" asks Geoff Candy, answering his own question just by raising it, and finding only "fairly optimistic" calls from even those analysts warning that gold could lose its mojo short term. Doom-n-gloom heavy Dylan Grice at Societe Generale agrees, writing this week about how "Gold just isn't the misunderstood, widely shunned asset it was a few years ago," but again finding only good cause to stay long from here, rather than taking the contrary path. And "10 years ago gold was not owned by retail investors but was primarily held by central banks," nods the UK's Armstrong Investment.
"Strong performance, uncorrelated returns with other asset classes and the advent of easily-accessible ETFs have seen investors make ever-increasing allocations to the precious metal." Yet once more, "An allocation to gold [still] makes sense in a diversified portfolio." So far, so what. But hold on: "Investors should not view [gold] as a safe haven without its own inherent risks," Armstrong go on—about as bearish a view as you'll find among long-term gold bulls today. Anyone wanting a real selloff in gold, most especially those who then expect it—revived and refreshed—to resume the bull market, might have to settle for this.
"Over the long term," says Armstrong, "gold has been a perfect portfolio diversifier—positive returns with no correlation to traditional asset classes. [But] over the past three years gold prices have shown a correlation of +0.8 with the S&P500." What does that mean? If gold and U.S. equities were joined at the hip, they'd show a positive correlation of 1.00. And if they moved in opposite directions—but by precisely the same proportion each time—they'd show a perfectly negative correlation of 1.00 instead. Whereas over the long term, the average correlation between gold prices and stocks actually comes out at zero. Making gold, as Armstrong notes of the past, the perfect foil for investors wanting to improve the risk/return profile of their position in stocks.
So today's current three-year figure, therefore, up near gold's strongest-ever link with the stock market, does suggest gold has dropped nearly all of its diversification powers. But only if you neglect how that magic comes about in the first place. Not by sitting bang on zero forever, but by swinging now higher, now lower, and averaging out at "non-correlated" by in fact being positive or negative at any one time.
Overall, since gold prices began to move freely in the last pretence of a gold standard in the late 1960s, the metal has moved in the same direction as stocks—on a quarterly basis—for roundabout half of the time. It's gone in the other direction to stocks for pretty much the other half of the time, making gold uncorrelated in total.
Neither positive nor negative, gold in the long run is just unconnected. Which suggests that, whatever next comes for the stock market, trying to time a gold sale (or purchase) based on today's correlation is unlikely to pay.
Chalk another fake bear up as only bullish long term.
Adrian Ash, BullionVault
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Adrian Ash is head of research at BullionVault, the secure, low-cost gold and silver market for private investors online, where you can buy physical gold today vaulted in Zurich on $3 spreads and 0.8% dealing fees.
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