The stock market's worst January coincides with a chorus of predictions that the fall of gold has reached bottom from its lofty peak in 2011. Gold is the investment of the fearful, and there's fear of just about everything from recession to terrorism. Indeed, gold rallied 6.3 percent during the past six weeks.
On casual inspection, it's easy to conclude that the price of gold has nowhere to go but up after a four-year slide to $1,045 an ounce in December from a record $1,923 -- a 46 percent declinemeasured by futures contracts.
The Rise And Fall Of Gold
Look harder. Gold has fallen much faster and a lot further before. Between January 1980 and June 1982, for example, the precious metal lost 66 percent of its value, droppingto $298 from $873.Ups and Downs
That made sense. The gold price had been driven up by fearsome inflation, which soared to 14.8 percent before receding to 2.5 percent by July, 1983. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a reflection of the Federal Reserve's determination to shore up financial assets, reached 16 percent. As these rates fell back to earth, so did gold. Inflation today is barely visible at 0.7 percent.Gold Meets Inflation
November 1981 marked the beginning of a rapid expansion of globalization, coordinated monetary authorities and robust bull markets in bonds and stocks. During the last two decades of the 20th century, the returns on these investments were overwhelming -- the Standard & Poor's 500 Index appreciated1,099 percent while U.S. Treasury bonds reaped an average 432 percent from income and price gains.
They proved just as hardy in the 21st, when the S&P 500 and Treasuries climbed76 percent and 126 percent. That was despite unprecedented speculation in residential and commercial real estate, the ensuing economic crisis and worst recession since the Great Depression that ushered in gold's rebound until governments and monetary authorities restored confidence.
While gold rallied for several years into the housing bust and financial crisis, it failed to match the returns of stocks or bonds in the subsequent expansion.
Now China's slowdown has stoked enough anxiety to burnish gold's appeal. Among 24 traders and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News, 17 are bullishon gold. A handful of global investors predict the end of U.S. growth and a stock market crash similar to the 2008 disaster. The world's largest gold exchange traded fund, SPDR Gold Shares, saw a 3.8 percent inflow increase during the past four weeks after $2 billion of outflows in 2015, or 7.6 percent of its total market capitalization.
Amid the current gloom, though, financial assets show no signs of losing their advantage. That's because they are underpinned by an economy that shows none of the weaknesses that prompted the last recession or any of the preceding ones.