The BRICS countries are considering launching a new trading currency backed by gold. Separately, World Gold Council data from earlier this year showed demand for gold from central banks worldwide in 2022 was the highest on record since the middle of the last century.
Are we on the cusp of a more significant shift to gold – even a ‘new gold standard’?
One key driver behind the recent positive narrative on gold has been the renewed ‘de-dollarisation’ debate. It is argued that the US dollar’s dominance in global trade and finance is likely to wane as more alternatives start to become available. The proposed BRICS currency could, for instance, chip away at the dollar’s dominance in world trade.
We remain sceptical about the prospects for significant ‘de-dollarisation’ over the next few years, given limited alternatives. For one, the relatively limited supply of gold means that a fully gold-backed currency is unlikely to achieve a similar level of scale as the greenback.
However, attempts to diversify even modestly away from a concentration in dollars to gold can offer a key source of support for the precious metal. Indeed, 2022 was a good example of this. As the World Gold Council data showed, central bank demand for gold spiked to the highest level in decades, driving gold prices close to record highs.
Amid the excitement over potential de-dollarisation demand, we believe it is important not to lose sight of the more traditional drivers of gold prices. From a financial investor’s point of view, we continue to see real (or net-of-inflation) bond yields as one of the most important and consistent drivers of gold.
This driver argues that gold could face some headwinds in the coming 6-12 months. The rise in Fed policy rates and US bond yields is increasingly at odds with a falling rate of inflation. This means that net-of-inflation bond yields are likely to rise further as the Fed starts to achieve its goal of slowing inflation. We expect this trend to continue until the Fed considers cutting rates.
For gold, this rise in real yields acts as a headwind because it represents the opportunity cost of holding gold. The precious metal does not offer an income and real yields represent the next best investment opportunity.
Gold an attractive diversifier
One area where we do see value for gold is its role as a portfolio diversifier. During the four previous US economic recessions, gold prices rose in absolute terms. Gold also outperformed a basket of other major asset classes and offered better returns per unit of risk compared with other major defensive asset classes.
As we continue to navigate what we see as a late-cycle business environment, with both upside and downside risks to asset classes such as equities, we believe gold has a role to play in delivering more stable investment portfolios.
Stay with core allocations
In conclusion, gold faces a mix of positive and negative factors. On the upside, we believe demand for diversification away from the dollar, gold’s historical outperformance during past US economic recessions and its superior returns per unit of risk are positives. However, its failure to break to a new record high, despite inflation running at a four-decade high last year in most developed economies, and a likely rise in real (net-of-inflation) US bond yields going forward are key headwinds.
We do not believe that we are on the cusp of a ‘new gold standard’. However, gold’s role as a portfolio diversifier, particularly during US economic recessions, is why we believe it still has an important role to play in investment allocations.