The glitter of gold has dimmed in recent months. Gold prices have tumbled from their highs in 2020, leaving many investors wondering—why is the price of gold falling? Several powerful forces are driving gold prices down from their previous lofty levels. Read on for an in-depth look at what's dragging down gold.
Gold prices peaked in August 2020 at over 2,000 per ounce. But since then, they've steadily declined to about 1,750 at the time of this writing. That's a drop of almost 13% from their 2020 highs.
This slump has dashed the hopes of gold bugs banking on ever-rising prices. And it has raised doubts about gold's reputation as an inflation hedge and safe haven asset.
In this article, we'll explore the key factors behind gold's decline: a resurgent U.S. dollar, low inflation, shifting investor preferences, and rising interest rates. Understanding these forces can help investors determine if gold's glory days are behind it or if this is a temporary setback before the next bull run.
The Mighty U.S. Dollar Flexes Its Muscles
One of the main factors weighing on gold prices is the strength of the U.S. dollar. Why does the dollar affect gold so much? It's because gold is priced in U.S. dollars globally. So when the greenback appreciates, gold becomes more expensive for buyers using foreign currencies.
The U.S. Dollar Index, which tracks the dollar's value against a basket of currencies, has risen over 7% since May 2020. This corresponds with gold's decline over the same period.
A stronger dollar makes dollar-priced gold less affordable for global buyers from countries like India and China, which are among the world's top gold consumers. Reduced foreign demand puts downward pressure on prices.
The dollar has strengthened thanks to several factors, including a robust U.S. economic rebound from COVID-19 driven by fiscal stimulus. Ironically, those stimulus measures also drove up gold prices earlier in the pandemic as investors feared inflation. But as the economy rebounds, the dollar benefits.
If the dollar continues its ascent, expect it to drain more shine from gold's price. But some analysts think the dollar rally may lose steam, which could provide support to gold.
Low Inflation Saps Gold's Power
Conventional wisdom says gold is a hedge against inflation. But with inflation at multi-decade lows, gold has lost one of its key supports.
U.S. inflation has remained remarkably tame the past decade, rarely breaching 2%. And it's currently hovering around just 1.5%. Gold bugs were betting inflation would skyrocket due to all the stimulus spending during COVID-19. But that hasn't happened so far.
Subdued inflation diminishes gold's appeal to investors seeking to protect their money from rising prices. During past inflationary periods, gold performed well as investors flocked to it as a safe haven. But with inflation muted, one impetus for owning gold has vanished.
However, some economists think inflation may spike in coming years due to factors like rising wages and continuing supply chain disruptions. If high inflation returns, gold could regain its shine as investors seek shelter from rising prices.
Stocks Dethrone King Gold Among Investors
Investor preferences are fickle. And lately, they've favored stocks over gold and other alternative assets like cryptocurrencies.
Despite ultra-low interest rates, stocks have offered far better returns than gold over the past decade. The S&P 500 has gained over 230% since 2011 compared to gold's 35% return.
Stocks have rallied thanks to surging corporate profits and unprecedented monetary stimulus from central banks. Investors hungry for yield have pivoted heavily toward stocks while gold has fallen out of favor.
Part of it is cyclical. Stocks bottomed in March 2020 during the pandemic selloff. Since then, they've enjoyed a huge run. Meanwhile gold prices peaked last summer.
But some long-term structural factors are also at play. Many institutional investors now embrace stocks as vital portfolio diversifiers whereas they once viewed gold fills that role. Unless stocks stumble, investors' love affair with equities may continue to overshadow gold.
Higher Interest Rates Increase Gold's Opportunity Cost
Gold pays no income. So when interest rates rise, it gets more expensive to hold gold since it misses out on interest payments that bonds or other assets could generate.
Real interest rates deeply influence gold prices because they represent the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion. When interest rates climb, investors tend to favor yield-producing assets over gold, dragging down its price.
After being stuck at near-zero for years, interest rates are starting to rise. The Federal Reserve has already announced its first rate hike with more expected. As rates move higher, the opportunity cost of holding gold increases.
However, gold may hold up better against rising nominal rates compared to real rates. If inflation spikes, pushing real rates lower despite nominal rate hikes, gold could still rally. Still, the direction of interest rates remains a headwind impeding major gains.
Outlook Going Forward - Will Gold Recover Its Gleam?
What does the future hold for gold with all these forces weighing it down? There are arguments on both sides.
The case for gold recovering revolves around high inflation returning. If inflation heats up despite interest rate hikes, gold should regain its appeal as a hedge against rising prices.
Some analysts argue the unprecedented stimulus from governments and central banks could eventually unleash significant inflation. And if the stock market stumbles after its long bull run, investors may flock back to gold as a safe haven.
However, the case against a gold rebound centers on the dollar remaining strong. Continued dollar strength would hamper foreign demand for gold regardless of what happens with inflation or stocks.
Rising cryptocurrency adoption could also dull gold's appeal, especially among younger investors who view bitcoin as their inflation hedge of choice. Crypto stealing market share from gold is an emerging trend to watch.
For contrarian investors, gold's slump may represent a buying opportunity. But chasing short-term moves is risky. Those betting on a rebound must have a high tolerance for further price declines in case the bearish trends persist.
Regardless of whether gold recovers or keeps sliding, it remains a volatile asset affected by complex macro forces. Investors should size their gold positions appropriately within a diversified portfolio rather than banking on big gains. A modest allocation can still provide insurance against inflation and market downturns.
But gold is unlikely to return to being viewed as the one-stop safe haven asset it was in previous decades. While gold will never lose its intrinsic appeal entirely, its investment luster may continue to fade relative to newer alternatives like crypto.
Is Gold Still a Hedge Against Inflation? Examining the Complex Relationship
Gold has long been hailed as an inflation hedge. But with inflation low in recent years, gold has stagnated, causing some to question this relationship. Is gold still a good hedge against inflation? Or has this key appeal of gold tarnished?
Historically, gold has been viewed as one of the best assets to own during inflationary periods. As a physical asset with inherently limited supply, gold has maintained its purchasing power over time much better than fiat currencies prone to devaluation.
But in the current era of low inflation, gold's effectiveness as an inflation hedge has come into doubt. Its price movements have not correlated consistently with inflation the past decade.
However, the connection between gold and inflation remains complex. While gold may not always move in lockstep with inflation, it still retains characteristics that could buoy its price in inflationary conditions.
This article will examine the nuances between gold and inflation and whether investors should still consider gold an inflation hedge.
Inflation Expectations Fuel Gold Demand
One of gold's primary appeals is its role as a store of value. When inflation is high, consumers' purchasing power declines as the costs of goods and services rise faster than incomes.
In this environment, gold's stable intrinsic value offers an appealing haven for investors seeking to protect their wealth from inflation eroding the value of cash.
Rising inflation also drives expectations of further inflation among investors. This can increase demand for inflation hedges like gold.
However, gold's ability to meet this demand relies on it being readily available to purchase, which highlights the importance of supply dynamics.
Gold Supply Dynamics Can Dampen Price Effects
While demand for gold may rise during inflation, enough supply must exist to meet this elevated demand. Constraints on gold supply can mute the positive price effects of inflation.
For example, increased gold mining and recycling of existing gold are key sources of above-ground supply. But mining faces challenges like declining ore grades that limit production growth.
Central banks are also major holders of gold reserves. But most are net buyers of gold now rather than sellers after years of dumping reserves. This shrinking source of supply can offset rising investor demand.
These rigid supply dynamics cause gold's availability to lag sudden spikes in inflation and demand. This tempers gold's upside price performance and effectiveness as an inflation hedge.
Competing Assets Can Diminish Gold's Appeal
Investors have many options besides gold to hedge inflation, such as Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), commodities, and real estate.
Some assets like TIPS provide direct inflation protection. And stocks offer earnings growth that can offset inflation. These alternatives can lure capital away from gold during inflationary periods.
Cryptocurrencies have also emerged as speculative hedges against currency devaluation due to their fixed supply. While cryptos lack gold's history, they may increasingly compete for investor dollars as digital assets gain adoption.
Abundant inflation-fighting choices make gold less of a standout safe haven asset than in the past. This dilution of demand can weaken gold's performance.
Gold Shines Brightest With Sustained High Inflation
Considering these factors, gold's inflation hedging abilities seem to depend on the duration and magnitude of inflationary pressures.
During short-lived inflation spikes, constraints on supply curtail gold's upside. And investors may opt for assets with more direct inflation protection.
But if high inflation persists for years, gold's appeal grows as its supply catches up with demand and the limitations of other assets become apparent.
For example, TIPS lose their advantage if inflation expectations are continuously revised higher. And stocks can struggle during stagflationary periods of high inflation and low growth.
In these extended high inflation scenarios, gold has historically acted as a reliable store of value and hedge. Investors flock to it as the initial enthusiasm for other assets fades.
So while gold may not perfectly correlate with inflation, it tends to appreciate over long periods of severe inflation compared to eroding fiat currencies.
Current Outlook Depends on Inflation's Trajectory
Gold's future prospects as an inflation hedge depend largely on whether current inflationary pressures subside or intensify.
If inflation remains low, gold will likely continue to underperform and struggle to break out above its recent trading range. Alternatives like stocks and cryptos would likely keep attracting the bulk of investment flows.
However, some economists forecast inflation will accelerate due to factors like rising wages, supply chain issues, and loose monetary policy. Others see it as transitory. The path of inflation remains hotly debated.
If high inflation does materialize and persist, gold's shine as an inflation hedge could return. But investors must also consider how factors like rising real interest rates may affect gold's appeal.
Ultimately gold remains a prudent portfolio diversifier. It can provide insurance against inflation risks even if its price movements don't perfectly track inflation data points in the short run.