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Case For Holding Gold - The Lombard Odier View

Editorial Staff, 23 July 2020


The Swiss private bank sets out the reason for holding the yellow precious metal in portfolios. The commentary is another turn in the debate about the role gold should play in wealth management.

The case for investing in gold often arises when risks appear to be higher than normal, or when fears erupt that the value of government “fiat” money is going to erode. Massive central bank quantitative easing - aka money printing - and the impact of the global pandemic create plenty of risks in the investor's mind, even if it turns out that central bank new money gets mopped up before problems arise.

This is a classic “safe haven” asset. Debate remains: the very time that a person might want to access their gold might be a time when governments try to seize it - as happened during the 1930s in the US. Gold stubbornly refuses to go away as an important asset class, and a bank with some experience in this area is Switzerland’s Lombard Odier. Here, its chief investment officer, Stéphane Monier, comments on the gold sector and the case for holding it.

The nature of the gold market has shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers spend less and investors increasingly turn to the precious metal as a portfolio hedge and diversifier. As fears over COVID-19 intensified in mid-March and investors sought liquidity, gold prices temporarily correlated with other assets and fell. Once it was clear to investors that the world faced a global pandemic, prices rallied in line with central banks’ massive financial asset buying programmes.

Historically, the gold price may rise when the value of the dollar declines. But in recent months, the precious metal has risen across all major currencies as global investment demand has grown through the pandemic. Gold has risen by 15 per cent year to date and traded at $1,801/oz on 17 July. That is near its historic close of $1,875.25/oz on 2 September 2011. At these levels, why own gold in a portfolio?

The combination of low-to-negative government bond yields plus a weakening US dollar and, most importantly, massive central bank accommodation, supports financial demand. This relationship between gold and real yields has held for the last decade and recent central bank interventions have reinforced the case for holding gold as a portfolio diversification tool.

In addition, as investors consider the pandemic’s longer-term implications, they are likely to look harder at their exposure to sovereign debt and the solvency of indebted governments. This further increases the attractiveness of gold which, even if it produces no income and is costly to store, carries no credit risk.

Mining less
All of these factors create a positive environment for gold prices and add to the precious metal’s attractions as a portfolio hedge. In fact, this accommodative, low-yield environment may prove historically persistent over the long term. The Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have written recently about the shock of pandemics on economies. Both studies, working with evidence starting in the 14th century, show that these events tend to depress real interest rates not for years but for decades. Most commodity prices are a balance between supply and demand. But in the case of gold, threats to supply are sometimes overblown.

In 2019, the supply from gold mines fell by 1 per cent, according to the World Gold Council. This year, the supply declined by 3 per cent in the first quarter as many mines shut during the COVID-19 crisis. The interruptions, which intensified in the second quarter, have made some deep mines uneconomical and the pipeline of new mines will not compensate. Closed refineries and more complex logistics chains also complicated the supply of gold bars and coins. However, investors should not pay too much attention to variations in gold production and supply. Unlike the oil market, gold is not in short supply.

The equivalent of about 60 years of supplies are already above ground, and there is a large market for recycled gold.

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