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Navigating uncertainty: Gold’s enduring appeal in a fractured world

Navigating uncertainty: Gold’s enduring appeal in a fractured world

By Helena Mboti
FNB Economist.

The global economic landscape is characterized by heightened geopolitical tensions, the potential for conflict escalation, and ongoing environmental concerns. Moreover, over 60 countries are slated for elections adding to the level of global uncertainty.

This article explores how these factors are shaping the demand for gold, a physical asset, and store for value throughout macro-financial stresses in business cycles, known for its resilience and safe-haven qualities.

The price of gold exhibited a steady upward trend over the past four years. In 2020, the average price sat at N$1 773.73 per ounce. Although there was a slight dip in 2021, the average price remained high at N$ 1,798.89 per ounce, representing a 1.4% y/y increase from 2020. This upward trend continued in 2022 with prices reaching an average of N$1 801.87 per ounce, reflecting a modest 0.23% y/y increase. The year 2023 witnessed a significant surge, with the average price rising to a record high of N$1 940.54 per ounce, marking an 8% y/y increase compared to 2022. furthermore, the price continued to climb throughout the year, ending at a record-breaking N$2 078.4 per ounce, and delivering a remarkable 15% return on investment for the year. Year-to-date, the commodity has continued on an upward trend, with spot price averaging above N$2 300.00 per ounce for June.

The decarbonization of the global energy basket and supply chain disruptions caused by increased geopolitical risks as well as accelerating geoeconomic fragmentation are likely to exert upward pressure on commodity prices. This combined with increased government spending precipitated by military activism due to rising geopolitical tensions across the globe, is expected to keep inflation elevated compared to the previous decade. Consequently, central banks may be forced to keep nominal interest rates comparatively elevated for longer, negatively impacting economic activity. This confluence of higher inflation and interest rates could significantly weigh on the growth momentum of some developed economics

Escalating geopolitical tensions, where we estimate the probability of conflict between 30-40%, is driving a significant flight to safety among investors. This risk aversion is manifested in a major reallocation of assets away from equities and towards fixed-income instruments as well as physical stores for wealth such as gold. Additionally, wider credit spread, indicating a preference for safer, albeit lower-yielding, fixed-income options signaling a flight to safety. In this environment of uncertainty, gold emerges as a valuable asset. Unlike traditional investments, it has no inherent counterparty risk and is considered a reliable store of value. Gold’s diverse demand comes from various sectors, including jewelry, technology, and central bank reserves. As a financial asset, gold exhibits an inverse longer-run correlation with broader risk assets, contributing to counter-cyclical nature and robustness amidst macro-financial risks and economic fluctuations.

Central banks have been pivotal players in the recent surge of gold demand. Witnessing record purchases in 2022 and 2023, with 2024 continuing the trend, it is evident that central banks, particularly those across emerging markets, view an asset shift into gold and away from US Treasury holdings as a critical component of their reserve diversification strategy in light of growing US debt sustainability concerns.

Moreover, despite a slight decline in 2023, industrial gold demand remains resilient in the technology sector, particularly in electronics. This demand is likely to rebound in 2024 as consumer electronics market dynamics garner momentum. Additionally, the cultural and emotional value of gold in jewelry markets like India and China continues to anchor physical gold demand.

Conclusion: A return to fundamentals

The current gold rush signifies a return to fundamental principles in a macroeconomic environment rife with uncertainty. As investors seek safety due to geopolitical tensions and the prospect of higher inflation, fixed-income options become increasingly attractive from an asset-allocative perspective.

Heightened uncertainty also means physical assets ought to receive higher allocations in balanced global portfolios. In this regard, Gold’s inherent value as a tangible asset and hedge against inflation becomes paramount. This enduring appeal is likely to persist in the face of ongoing global challenges.


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A Guest Contributor is any of a number of experts who contribute articles and columns under their own respective names. They are regarded as authorities in their disciplines, and their work is usually published with limited editing only. They may also contribute to other publications. - Ed.