Email of the day on gold, ratios and real rates
Comment of the Day

November 09 2021

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on gold, ratios and real rates

In contradistinction to your bullish backdrop for gold and your contention of an eventual breakout (not breakdown) of the price, I would appreciate your comments on the relevance and significance of this part of the John Authers’ Points of Return article in Bloomberg this morning:

The Loser of the Year of the Vaccine: Gold
The last 12 months have seen a steady rise in inflation, yet gold has Authors taken a drubbing. That is weird, because the precious metal has long been regarded, more or less correctly, as a hedge against inflation and monetary debasement. There’s been a lot of both inflation and money-printing in the last 12 months, and yet gold has declined, with miners of the metal becoming the single worst-performing sector in the S&P 500.

We would have found this even harder to predict if we had been told a year ago that real yields would stay solidly and historically negative. Gold has no yield and historically has a strong inverse relationship with real yields. The less bonds pay after inflation, the less unappealing gold will appear. But real yields have remained bafflingly low and that hasn’t helped:

As the chart indicates, there is only one other period since the crisis that looks anything much like this. Unfortunately, that was in 2012 and early 2013, when real yields stayed low during the Federal Reserve’s “QE Infinity” and gold began to fall. It turned out on that occasion that the price was telling us something. The spring of 2013 saw first a dramatic fall for gold and then the “taper tantrum” as bond yields shot upward in response to a hawkish Fed.

Another indicator looks surprising. The ratio of stocks to gold, the effective price of the S&P 500 in ounces rather than dollars, has stayed surprisingly constant since Richard Nixon removed the U.S. from the last vestiges of the gold standard in 1971. The S&P has been worth more in gold terms than it was in 1971 only for a few years at the top of the 1990s bull market. Despite all the worries about debasement, that golden ratio is now stronger than it was in 1971, and at a 16-year high:

It’s possible that gold’s admirers have deserted it for cryptocurrencies, of course. There are various explanations out there. But the interpretation that it’s telling us to beware a possible tantrum in the bond market and correction in stocks seems fair.

Eoin Treacy's view

Thank you for this email which raises a number of important points. I don’t mind admitting I have found the Dow/Gold ratio to be particularly perplexing over the last three years. For the first 15 years of my career, it was the most reliable of all long-term ratios. It had a wonderful history of cyclicality which depicted the ebb and flow of capital between asset classes over more than a century. It was one of the primary tools for rationalising the beginning of a secular bull market in equities from 2011 onwards. Then it pulled back in a big way in 2018 which raised big questions about the consistency of the move.

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