Gold breaches $1300 – but beware potential headwinds

Gold is teetering on making a significant breakthrough through the $1300 level but there could also be some adverse factors which could bring it back down again.  Another post submitted to Mineweb.com for publication on that site.

Lawrie Williams

While gold breached the $1300 level in overnight trading last night this is obviously way too early to call this the start of a consistent gold price uptrend, although it is obviously a very encouraging start to the year for gold bulls recently enhanced by the Swiss national Bank’s decision to drop the Swiss franc’s peg to the Euro.  The question now facing us is whether or not a sustained breakthrough can be achieved.  At the time of writing the price had fallen back into the high $1290s but was again testing the $1300 level.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is widely anticipated to announce that it is to implement a Quantitative Easing programme and buy government bonds to try and help stabilise the Eurozone economy at its meeting tomorrow.  But apart from some kind of knee-jerk reaction when the decision to do so, or kick the can further down the road, is announced we don’t see this having any serious price impact given many of these factors have already been taken into account in the recent gold price advance anyway.  Either way the Eurozone continues to have significant problems.

Greek elections come up on January 25th.  Opinion poll figures suggest the outcome is probably still too close to call, but there is a real chance that the anti-austerity, and anti-EU Syriza party may well win – but whether it might win by a sufficient majority to hold power on its own is much more uncertain.  The latest opinion polls put Syriza as gaining more ground and now ahead by between 4 and 6.5%, but whether this lead is sufficient to give it an outright majority should it win – even with the extra 50 seats in parliament given to the winning party to help it form a government under the Greek system – is far less certain.  Pundits put it a few seats short of an outright majority should this be the case.  While Greek public opinion appears to support many of Syriza’s proposals, particularly those in cutting back the current austerity programmes and reneging on the country’s debt, it also appears to favour remaining in the Eurozone and worries about that may prompt a last minute swing to the longer-established political groups and yet deliver victory to the incumbent New Democracy party and its allies.

What is particularly significant about the Greek elections, though, is that if Syriza does win it could send shockwaves through the whole of the Eurozone.  Many countries have seen the rise of ‘alternative’ political parties – not least in the UK (UKIP) and France (Front National). Britain’s highly regarded Economist Intelligence Unit points to the rise of these alternative ‘populist’ parties as having the potential to create substantial changes to voting patterns – it also cites Denmark, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Germany and Ireland as having spawned political parties which could lead to unpredictable results in their next electoral polls.  A Syriza victory would likely give a significant boost to these other populist options and potentially lead to major political instability throughout Europe and the break-up of the single currency, if not the EU itself.

Political instability is, of course, manna for the gold bulls as people rush to buy the precious metal as providing some form of stability as it virtually always has in the past.

Taken with continuing strife in the Ukraine, with major potential still for destabilising escalation which could spread to other former Soviet countries, and the huge political and military impact of fundamentalist Islamic groups in the Middle East with potential to spread to North Africa, and now also in West Africa with Boko Haram, the world is beginning to look increasingly fragmented – all positive for gold.

But there is near-term downside risk for gold too, as pointed out in the latest Precious Metals Weekly newsletter from specialist analysts, Metals Focus. The group believes that the recent positive factors are all temporary and expect that the upturn in gold will eventually lose its momentum.

Looking beyond the positive euphoria of the past few weeks, Metals Focus sees three major headwinds develop for gold, likely in the second half of the quarter. First, it is likely that US interest rate expectations will return with a potentially adverse impact on  gold in North America in particular. Second, Eurozone concerns should probably wane. Third, the current strength of physical demand, fuelled by pre-Chinese New Year buying, will eventually subside.  Should these three factors indeed concur, the consultancy believes that investor sentiment towards gold will quickly evaporate. They stress that their field research so far suggests little conviction by institutional players that there is a genuine change in trend for the price and that recent positioning favouring gold seems to be mostly opportunistic rather than strategic.

So, as usual, the path of the gold price is perhaps impossible to call with so much depending on often unpredictable geopolitical events to give it the occasional upwards or downwards spurt.  The fact that the first three weeks of the current year have seen a plethora of events and market activities which have largely benefited gold so far does suggest that we are going to see a turbulent year ahead which will likely provide, at various stages, both upwards and downwards pressures on precious metals prices.  Where this will leave them in 12-months time is anybody’s guess although we would err on the positive in our own predictions.

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