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August 31, 2022

Is Gold's Value a Myth?

Michael J. Donoghue
Is Gold's Value a Myth?

The past two years have been historic for gold against the US Dollar (XAU/USD), as XAU/USD crossed above the 2000 level for the first time in history in 2020, and then again in early 2022. However, shortly after touching resistance in March this year, the pair began trending downward, recently hitting key support at 1700. With year-over-year inflation still roaring at 8.5% as the US experiences a technical recession (two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth), it may seem strange that gold, renowned as a perennial safe haven asset, has not been performing well. Now is the perfect time for us to discuss, and ask: is gold's value a myth?

Gold’s Reputation

Gold has a revered status among many traders and investors, with some economists and financial gurus even believing gold’s fundamentals guarantee its value as a sort of ultimate security. Some of this is rooted in nostalgia for the gold standard, and the belief that USD only had real value when it was backed by gold. This belief is an instance of a monetary theory called metallism.

However, even those who don’t subscribe to metallism still have reason to be concerned about the risk inherent to today’s fiat currencies, which are backed by governments rather than commodities. Worries about fiat money are often central for gold bulls, as they consider gold to be a perfect alternative to the waning purchasing power of cash. For the sake of evaluating these biases, let’s consider compelling arguments for both gold bullishness and bearishness.

The Bullish Case for Gold

Although there are many reasons to be bullish on gold, there appear to be three primary ones. First, gold is a scarce resource; there is a finite amount of gold in the earth, and unlike certain commodities like lumber and grain, the total amount of gold in existence cannot (practically) be manually increased. This inherently limited supply reinforces gold’s millennia-long precious metal status.

Second, demand for gold has persisted since the earliest recordings of human civilization, only increasing exponentially as the earth’s population grows. While much of consumer spending on gold is still grounded in demand for jewelry and other luxury items, gold is also used across many industries to create computer chips, dental crowns, and more. Much of this demand also comes from gold investors, of which there are many, including the Federal Reserve.

Third, gold is a store of value, retaining purchasing power while a fiat currency’s purchasing power gradually (or rapidly) declines over time. This is because, as governments and central banks coordinate economic growth and expansion, increasing a given country’s money supply accordingly, inflation occurs as consumer demand outpaces the supply of goods and services. Gold is exempt from this process since it cannot be printed ad infinitum, and its purchasing power is bolstered with time as investors seek a hedge against inflation.

The Bearish Case for Gold

There are also many reasons to be skeptical of gold as an investment, including these three. First, while gold is indeed scarce, this does not mean the supply of gold is static, as mining production increases over time. According to Statista, global gold production has even surpassed 3000 metric tons per year several times this past decade, which means increasing availability for consumers.

Second, though there is indeed consistent demand for gold, over 33% of this demand comes from investors, including central banks. While gold is certainly a store of value to some degree, the fact that approximately one-third of spending on gold comes from investors seems troubling, as some of this could be reducible to speculation. This is especially worth considering since central banks are effectively subsidizing the gold markets with additional demand, which may not last.

Third, although fiat currencies and the foreign exchange market lend permanent precariousness to the value of money, XAU/USD’s performance has also been volatile and erratic. While XAU/USD is up 5000% since 1971, it has been a rocky road getting there, with many consecutive years of stagnation and decline as well as jumps. Considering the effect of monetary policy on XAU/USD, as well as dips following historic highs, there is reason to believe gold’s value will continue dropping amid the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes.

Conclusion: Truth, or Fiction?

The bad news is the world has seldom encountered a financial situation like the one we are currently in. Conventional Keynesian wisdom prescribes that governments and central banks spend their way out of recessions, and tax and tighten amid high inflation; however, this doesn’t take supply-side issues into account, or consider these two phenomena occurring simultaneously. Thus, we are in uncharted waters, and it is unclear what effect this will have on XAU/USD.

The good news is we still have recent historical data to work with, and new circumstances don’t render it altogether worthless. On top of this, these bullish and bearish arguments for gold are not mutually exclusive, as both can be helpful regardless of bias. While short-term bearish momentum seems to be more likely amid contractionary monetary policy over the next few years, this doesn’t negate existing demand for gold, and presents myriad buying opportunities for long-term bulls who may look forward to the eventual return of expansionary monetary policy. A1 Trading's EdgeFinder tool is also a helpful way to keeps tabs on XAU/USD sentiment and fundamentals going forward.

Key Takeaways

• After soaring in value over the course of the pandemic, XAU/USD experienced a sharp bearish reversal in 2022. With such mixed results in a time of high inflation and technical recession, it is worth wondering whether gold’s mythical safe haven status is outdated.
• Gold has a prominent reputation among traders and investors as being perhaps the most promising of all financial assets, destined to appreciate amid the inevitable uncertainty brought by fiat currencies. There are compelling arguments both for, and against, this.
• Three reasons to subscribe to XAU/USD bullishness are 1) gold’s scarcity, 2) persisting demand for gold, and 3) the depreciating value of fiat currencies, including USD.
• Three reasons to subscribe to XAU/USD bearishness are 1) gold’s increased availability, 2) subsidized demand for gold, and 3) XAU/USD’s erratic historical performance.
• Unfortunately, given the experimental nature of today’s monetary systems, it is impossible to know what gold’s value will eventually be. However, when money supplies continue expanding, there is reason to believe gold’s value will grow in correlation.
• As the Federal Reserve pursues monetary policy hawkishness in the face of 8.5% year-over-year US inflation, the XAU/USD downtrend seems likely to continue due to USD strength. Once the end of Fed tightening is near, buying opportunities may abound.

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