We will be lucky if this expansionary phase lasts beyond the end of 2018, given the restricted headroom for increases in interest rates for the four major currencies. But there’s one asset that is poorly understood in western financial markets, and that’s physical gold.
In the short term, the prospect of rising interest rates can be expected to be read as a negative factor for precious metals. This is because market speculators in Western capital markets are used to trading gold as the mirror image of the dollar. If the dollar is strengthening, gold will weaken. If interest rates are rising, the dollar strengthens. Therefore, the logic goes, sell your gold. This may be true during the recovery phase of the credit cycle, when increases in interest rates, or just the threat of them, will be judged by markets as an anticipatory action, leading to a stronger currency.
In the expansionary phase, central banks react belatedly, for the reasons described above. It changes the fundamental relationship between monetary policy and the gold price from that which persisted in the recovery phase of the credit cycle. We have seen gold suppressed during the recovery phase, once fears of financial and system collapse receded, but the dollar price of gold has more recently been rising, erratically perhaps, since December 2015. Bond yields bottomed out six months later, with the yield on the 5-year US Treasury nearly doubling to 1.9% today. We can take this as evidence of an evolution in market relationships, because gold and short-term bond yields are both rising. This change in relationship effectively confirms we have already moved from recovery to expansion in the credit cycle.
Central banks are already behind the curve, and will become more so. The gold price can be expected to strengthen during the expansionary phase of the credit cycle, reflecting the declining purchasing power of fiat currencies and the trend towards negative real interest rates. This was certainly the case in the US’s expansionary phase of the late 1970s, when dollar inflation was threatening to escalate out of control.
A rising gold price also accords with rising commodity prices, all measured in declining fiat currencies. We are already in the initial stages of credit expansion, signaled by the wake-up call from Ms Yellen and Mr Carney, so it also serves as a signal that industrial commodity prices will rise. Their prices are already rising, so the markets are telling us the purchasing power of the dollar, as well as the other fiat currencies, are commencing a new decline measured in industrial materials. And while in the very short-term precious metals may need to adjust further to the change in credit cycle relationships, above all, Yellen and Carney are effectively signalling that the time is right to buy gold and silver.