How the Fundamental Backdrop Could Turn Bullish for Gold

By Steve Saville

The fundamental backdrop is now definitively gold-bearish

A cottage industry has developed around manipulation-focused gold commentary. In this industry, gold’s price changes are portrayed as the outcome of a never-ending battle between the forces of good and evil, with the evil side constantly trying to beat the price down and the good side constantly buying or holding. Also, in the world imagined by this industry the fundamental backdrop is always gold-bullish. The implication is that all price rises are in accordance with the fundamentals and all price declines are contrary to the fundamentals and likely the result of manipulation by the forces of evil.

In the real world, however, the fundamentals are always in a state of flux — sometimes bullish, sometimes bearish, and sometimes mixed/neutral. Furthermore, our experience has been that gold tracks fundamental developments more closely/accurately than any other market.

When the gold price was topping in July-August of this year, the fundamental backdrop wasn’t gold-bearish; it was neutral. The ‘fundamentals’ therefore didn’t signal a top, but they did indicate that additional gains in the gold price would not have been fundamentally-supported and would therefore have required a further ramp-up in speculative buying.

From early-July through to early-November the ‘true fundamentals’ shifted between being neutral to being slightly-bearish for gold and then back again (we thought they were slightly bearish from mid-September through to mid-October and otherwise neutral). They turned bearish, however, a couple of days after the US Presidential Election and since around mid-November have been their most bearish in at least three years.

The fundamental backdrop is now definitively gold-bearish because we have a) real interest rates in an upward trend and at a 6-month high in the US, b) US credit spreads immersed in a major contraction (indicating rising economic confidence), c) dramatic relative strength in bank stocks (indicating sharply-rising confidence in the banking/financial system), and d) the Dollar Index in a strong upward trend and near a multi-year high. Given these conditions, any analyst/commentator who is now claiming that the ‘fundamentals’ are bullish for gold is either clueless about gold’s true fundamentals or is trying to promote an agenda.

That’s the situation today, but the situation will change. In broad-brushed terms, here are the two most likely ways that the situation could change to become supportive of an intermediate-term gold rally:

1) Rising inflation expectations

US inflation expectations have been rising since 11th February and have been rising at a quickened pace since late-September, but since Trump’s election victory the rate of increase in nominal interest rates has exceeded the rate of increase in inflation expectations. This has brought about a rise in REAL interest rates.

In effect, over the past month economic growth expectations have risen faster than inflation expectations. This doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the plans of the Trump Administration, but when speculating in the financial markets we must deal with ‘what is’ rather than ‘what should be’.

It’s certainly possible that at some point over the next few months the markets will figure out that the combined plans of the US government and the Fed will lead to more “price inflation” than economic growth, resulting in a relatively fast increase in inflation expectations. As well as causing real interest rates to fall, this would result in a weaker US$ and a further steepening of the yield curve. All told, it would result in the fundamental backdrop becoming gold-bullish.

2) A banking crisis in Europe

The major banks around the world are intimately and intricately connected via their massive derivative books, so a banking crisis that began in Europe would not remain confined to Europe. It would lead to concerns about the profitability of US banks, which, in turn, would lead to relative weakness in bank stocks and a general shift towards safety. Interest rates on Treasury debt would fall faster than inflation expectations, resulting in a lower real interest rate in the US. Also, short-term interest rates would fall relative to long-term interest rates due to a flight to liquidity and the market beginning to anticipate a shift in the Fed’s stance, resulting in a steepening of the yield curve. The overall effect would be a fundamental backdrop that was gold-bullish.

Either of the above could happen within the next few months, but neither is happening now.

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