In the Bullring With Gold

With gold prices falling 10 percent back in December, many investors began to wonder if gold was losing its steam. Once the Federal Reserve announced that it will keep interest rates low until 2014, gold has resumed its climb and jumped more than 3 percent.

Frank Talk
February 06, 2012
US Funds

After prices fell 10 percent in December, many investors wondered if the bull market in gold was running out of steam. That was before Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke swooped in with a “red cape” and fired the bulls back up. Since the Fed reassured the world that interest rates will remain at “exceptionally low levels” for another two years, gold has jumped more than three percent.

UBS described the situation simply, “if investors needed a (further) reason why they should be long gold now, they got it yesterday … a more accommodative policy is a very good foundation for gold to build on the next move higher.”

To gold bugs, two more years of near-zero, short-term interest rates means negative real interest rates are here to stay, and this has historically been a strong driver for higher gold prices.

Bernanke and the Fed aren’t the only central bankers in the fiscal and monetary bullring. Brazil has cut its benchmark interest rate a few times and China lowered its reserve rate for banks in December. According to ISI Group, 78 “easing moves” have been announced around the world in just the past five months as countries look to stimulate economic activity.

One of the main weapons central bankers have employed is money supply, which has created a ton of liquidity in the global system. Global money supply rose 8 percent year-over-year in December, or about $4 trillion, according to ISI. I mentioned a few weeks ago how China experienced a record increase in the three-month change in M-2 money supply following China’s reserve rate cut.

Together, negative real interest rates and growing global money supply power the Fear Trade for gold. The pressure these two factors put on paper currencies motivates investors from Baby Boomers to central bankers to hold gold as an alternate currency.

Adrian Ash from Bullionvault says global central banks are on a buying spree and they have been since the Fed cut interest rates by 25 basis points in 2007. Central bankers’ shift to buying gold was a significant sea change for the yellow metal.

You can see from the chart below that official gold reserves have historically been much higher, averaging around 35,000 tons. In the 1990s, central banks began selling, with reserves hitting a 30-year low right around the time the Fed began cutting rates. Adrian says that gold holdings are now at a six-year high with the current amount of gold reserves just less than 31,000 tons.

These are countries large and small. In December, Russia, which has been routinely adding to the country’s gold reserves since 2005, purchased nearly 10 tons; Kazakhstan purchased 3.1 tons and Mongolia bought 1.2 tons. UBS says “although reported volumes are not very large, it is still an extension of the official sector accumulation trend.”

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