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Don’t Catch Gold Fever

By Benjamin Shepherd on August 18, 2016

Team USA has performed spectacularly in the 2016 Rio Olympics, racking up 94 medals as of this moment, including 31 gold. We’ve dominated swimming and taken home golds in track and field, gymnastics and even judo, which I forgot was an Olympic sport.

And we have another type of gold fever, as the price of the yellow metal has shot up by more than 26% this year even as the S&P 500 has gained about 13%. Silver has an even more impressive 40% gain.

 Striking all those Olympic medals is what’s driving metal prices higher though.

It’s because  the world is awash in uncertainty. For instance, uncertainty surrounding how Brexit will shake out pushed the price of gold higher. While it may not be dominating headlines now, many columnists predict that Brexit is the death knell for the EU.

Here at home, GDP grew by an estimated 1.2% in the second quarter even though economists had estimated 2.6%. First quarter growth was also revised down to 0.8%, and the Commerce Department cut its fourth quarter estimate to 0.9%. Our Olympians make be racking up wins, but our economy has cramps.

Then there’s China. While Moody’s recently boosted its 2016 growth forecast from 6.3% to 6.6%, that’s still not hugely encouraging. Remember that Chinese GDP grew by 6.9% in 2015, its slowest pace of growth in 25 years.

While Chinese exports are down, one of the biggest drags on the country’s economy is real estate. Policy makers there have been worried about a property bubble, so to keep prices in check there’s been a crackdown on buying homes for investment purposes. Those measures are working because, while prices rose 7.9% year-over-year in China’s major cities, they gained just 0.8% over the prior month.

And if China were in the 4 x 400 relay, it would be dropping the baton on every leg. In a surprising display of disunity, the country’s economic planning agency castigated the central bank for creating too much liquidity earlier this week. Just a few weeks before, the planning agency was basically urging the bank to create as much liquidity as possible to boost the economy. The bank has passed the buck to the finance ministry, saying it needed to loosen the purse strings to actually get the liquidity flowing. Fickle much?

Despite all these risks that scare investors into gold as a safe haven asset, I wouldn’t give in to the gold bug. Gold prices have been staid over the past month after the strong run up, so just a little bit of good news will cause them to dip. And as risky as the world’s finances seem, timing gold prices is riskier still.

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