Gold Stocks Explainer: The Gold Price Surge, The Fed, And The Gold Investing Outlook (IBD)
After a big letdown from the Fed, it looked like the recent gold price surge would take a breather. Then, President Trump took to Twitter the next day and escalated the China trade war. The price of gold reversed Fed-induced losses and surged close to a six-year high of $1,458. Top-ranked Kirkland Lake Gold, which tumbled 10% on July 31, rebounded 8% on Trump’s tweets.
Likewise, Barrick Gold stock rebounded close to a two-year high. Doubts about the economic outlook and especially a dovish Fed fueled a gold price surge in the first half of 2019. That sparked a burst of interest in gold investing and gold stocks. With Fed rate cuts back in play, can the good times last?
After the central bank only came through with a quarter-point Fed rate cut on July 31, and Fed chief Jerome Powell deflated hopes for more easing, the U.S. dollar index jumped to a two-year high. Gold stocks are usually stock market laggards when the outlook for the U.S. economy and the U.S. dollar is solid.
But economic uncertainty spiked anew on the new Trump tariffs. Trumps Trump tweeted that he’ll hit China with 10% tariffs on $300 billion in imports on Sept. 1. The dollar fell and Treasury yields plunged.
Institutional investors like gold as a hedge against uncertain times. After all, gold has proved its ability to hold value over centuries. But does it make sense for individual investors now? Here are some key things to consider when deciding when, whether and how to invest in gold, either via gold stocks — such as Kirkland Lake Gold (KL), Barrick Gold (GOLD) and Newmont Goldcorp(NEM) — or gold ETFs.
Gold Investing Options: Gold Stocks And Gold ETFs
Gold stocks and gold ETFs are the simplest way for individual investors to bet on a rising gold price. Investing in gold stocks can be a riskier, but also potentially more rewarding, way of investing in the precious metal.
Investors have three major options. They can buy gold stocks individually. They can buy an ETF that tracks the gold-mining stock sector, such as the VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX). Finally, they can get direct exposure to the precious metal itself via the SPDR Gold Shares ETF(GLD).
Well-known gold mining stocks include Barrick Gold stock, Newmont stock, Royal Gold (RGLD) and Kirkland Lake Gold stock. You can find the top gold-mining stocks, which are part of the broader Mining-Gold/Silver/Gems industry group, at IBD Stock Checkup.
In a sense, investing in gold stocks or a gold-mining ETF is a leveraged bet that the price of gold will keep rising. That’s because a higher gold price can have a dramatic impact on the profitability of gold miners. For example, Newmont said its total cost of production amounted to $907 per ounce of gold in the first quarter of 2019. That meant increases in the price of gold above that level would go straight to the bottom line.
The rising price of gold in the first half of 2019, along with booming production, made Kirkland Lake Gold stock a stalwart member of the premier IBD 50 stock list. Yet Kirkland Lake stock fell back to its 50-day moving average after its second-quarter earnings and a muddled Fed outlook.
Corporate leverage works both ways: Falling gold prices can shrink the bottom line in a hurry.
Investing in gold-mining stocks, especially a specific stock, brings in more complications than investing in the precious metal itself. The companies can suffer accidents or production snafus, deplete their reserves or pile up debt. On the upside, companies can increase mine output, find new reserves, or generate cost savings via mergers or mining productivity gains.
Gold Price History And Real Interest Rates
Adjusted for inflation, the price of gold hit an all-time peak in early 1980 amid double-digit inflation in the U.S. Unadjusted for inflation, the gold price peak above $1,900 per ounce came in August 2011. That came in the wake of the great financial crisis. The Fed was engaged in its second round of quantitative easing, the two-year Treasury yield hit historic lows below 0.2%, and the U.S. dollar index wasn’t far off historic lows after a fight over the debt ceiling nearly led to a U.S. debt default.
The gold price low of recent decades was just above $250 per ounce in 1999. That came as the U.S. economy was still enjoying the upside of the dot-com bubble and productivity was booming.
The common thread linking gold price highs and lows seems to be real interest rates. In 1980 and again in 2011, real interest rates were negative, with 2-year Treasury yields well below the rate of inflation.
In 1999, as the price of gold slumped, real interest rates were on the rise. The Fed was in a rate-hiking cycle, raising its benchmark rate north of 5%, well above roughly 2% inflation.
Why do real interest rates matter so much for the price of gold? Gold is a store of value, but holding it comes with an opportunity cost. That money could instead be invested safely in Treasuries, for example. If real interest rates are attractive, holding gold is much less attractive. When real interest rates turn negative, holding gold is usually a winner.
But real interest rates aren’t the only determinant of the price of gold. The supply-demand balance is among other important factors. For example, central bank sales of gold exacerbated the 1999 gold price slump.
How Gold Stocks Perform Vs. The Price Of Gold
In general, if you think gold is near a bottom and has room to run, history would say you’re better off owning gold stocks than the yellow metal itself. If you think gold could be nearing a top, you’re probably better off holding gold than gold stocks, based on past performance.
Consider, from the gold price bottom in late 2015 through June 2019, the SPDR Gold Shares ETF tracking the commodity’s price rose 31%. Meanwhile, the VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF rose 93% over the same span. That reflects the dramatic corporate earnings improvement thanks to the higher price of gold. Improved earnings, in turn, allow mining companies to increase dividends as the price of gold rises.
Kirkland Lake Gold stock led the pack, rising 174% from its Sept. 18, 2018, low to its July 22 peak. Royal Gold stock has seen a great run, hitting an all-time high on July 30.
Yet gold stock investors should beware: The descent for gold mining stocks from the 2011 price peak was much rougher than for the metal. To the trough in late 2015, the gold-tracking ETF tumbled 46%, but the ETF tracking gold miners cratered close to 80%.
The Gold Stock And Gold Price Outlook
The drop in real interest rates due to an abrupt U-turn from the Federal Reserve largely explained the rise in the price of gold in late 2018 and the first half of 2019. The Fed decided that too little inflation was a bigger threat than too much inflation. Instead of hiking rates, policymakers shifted to Fed rate cuts. The takeaway from the July 31 meeting offered some reason for caution. A divided Fed may be almost as worried about stoking financial excesses as allowing inflation to undershoot the 2% target. Still, real interest rates are expected to remain ultralow. Soft global growth, undercut by an intensifying China trade war, should provide a positive backdrop for the price of gold.
The strength of the dollar also may have an impact on gold prices. Since it’s priced in dollars, gold will tend to rise if the dollar weakens against international currencies. Lately, dollar strength has been a negative for gold prices, but the dollar could lose altitude if the U.S. economy slows and the Fed keeps cutting.
Some who see gold as a good long-term investment point to U.S. debt dynamics. Spiraling federal deficits and surging debt levels could force the Fed’s hand. In other words, the Fed might have to keep interest rates low or monetize the debt to avoid a fiscal crisis. That could erode the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency.
Yet, no matter your view of whether the price of gold is a good bet, it makes sense to subject investment decisions in gold stocks or an ETF tracking gold or gold stocks, to the same rigorous process as regular stock buys. That means waiting for a proper buy point and a buy signal.
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