Long-term outlook for gold remains favourable, despite Fed tightening

The perception of political instability in the US and worldwide is likely to weigh heavier on the gold price longer-term than short-term rate rises from the Fed

The gold price will be underpinned by political uncertainty

For gold bugs it could have been worse.

The Fed’s well-flagged quarter point interest rate hike on Wednesday was in large part already priced into the market. Gold dropped US$14 or just over 1%, to US$1,259 an ounce in morning trade, eventually settling a little lower.  

Silver was hit harder, down by around 1.5% to US$16.85 an ounce.

But all told, this was not a market that was reacting in shock. Equities fell too, especially in the mining sector, but alongside these corrections runs the widespread recognition that the Fed’s moves actually highlight a continuing if gradual return to normality for the US economy.

No such luxury for the British economy, of course, with the previous Brexit chaos now exacerbated by a UK election defeat in all but name for incumbent Theresa May.

It’s for that simple reason that gold is up over 40% in sterling terms since the beginning of 2016, and only by around 20% in dollar terms.

Whichever currency you’re invested in though it’s noticeable that in this context of a rising and well-flagged interest rate environment gold has still be on a general uptick.

If the assessment of Janet Yellen and her teams of economists at the Fed is correct, and the US economy is gradually returning to normal, this seems counterintuitive.

Except that the moment it isn’t really economic risk that gold is the measure of.

Rather, it’s political risk - both domestically in the US, and globally in terms of conflict flashpoints.

For all his bluster, Donald Trump’s administration has been floundering on the rocks of the investigation into its links with the Russian government.

How much this investigation will amount to in the end is questionable, but as Trump himself has demonstrated only too ably, the key message is not it the substance, it’s in the delivery.

This week, consumers of US cable news, and viewers of late night talk shows and daytime influencers like The View [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca61--jLK1c], which has a close equivalent in the UK known as Loose Women, were treated to the news that President Trump will now be investigated by a Special Prosecutor for obstruction of justice.

On The View, veteran Republican Newt Gingrich defended Trump and argued that the Russian investigation is leading nowhere. He may be right.

But now left-wing extremists are also arming themselves and taking pot-shots at right-wing US senators, the situation looks more volatile than ever.

So how fractured is the US, and what does it all mean for investors?

On one level, the economy is healing. And this is allowing the shenanigans of President Trump and other politicians from across the spectrum to make the daily activities of Janet Yellen look as measured and calm as they could possibly be.

Yes, there is still pain and strife in the US industrial heartlands and yes, month by month the job numbers aren’t always as good as they might be.

But the pain of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the whole subprime mortgage debacle is now at last beginning to fade. The Fed is no longer printing money like a Third World country. The presses are on hold and rates are going up.

Once again the US economy is helping make America great again, and if President Trump wants to use stimulus to shore up support amongst own power bases, that is a political matter not an economic one.

So economically, the US is on a slow recovery and with rates going up overall that’s a bearish picture for gold.

But the real question is: how well will the US hold together as a nation?

In the short-term there can be no doubt, to borrow an analogy from WB Yeats, that the “centre will hold” - US citizens across the spectra treat the Constitution with quasi-religious reverence, and as the setting aside of President Trump’s proposed travel bans has shown, the courts can still stand free of Presidential and other political interference.

Even so the US differs from Europe, where the Culture Wars have largely been fought out and finished, to the point where there is now a gay Prime Minister in Ireland and about to be one in Serbia, where the most powerful person in Europe is a German woman, and where the Mayor of London is a Muslim.

In the US, by contrast, the Culture War battlelines are still drawn hard around religion, guns, abortion and racial and national identity. One way or another all of these issues are woven right into the text of the constitution, a document belligerents constantly refer back to.

But how long the US population can go on fetishizing this late 18th century document in the age of the internet and instant news remains to be seen.

And if the time comes when anyone - from Republicans on the right to the most extreme progressives on the left - starts to question the Constitution itself, then that will be the point at which the gold price will really soar.

Because in a rational world, although an old document may not be much, it’s really all the US now has keeping it together as a single entity, whatever the experts say about the economy.

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