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Gold bulls are thanking the Fed

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…and a US rate increase is getting less likely by the day

Harley Salt BullionIndex.com.auBullion.Directory precious metals analysis 26 March, 2015
By Harley Salt

Co-founder, Director of Sales Trading at Bullion Index

Leading into the Federal Reserve March monetary policy meeting last week investors dumped gold sending it to a 4 month low, while at the same time trades went long dollars on expectation the Fed would suggest it will move as early as June on raising interest rates.

gold-bullWhile the Fed dropped the highly anticipated word ‘patient’ from their statement following the meeting, the statement however contained a number of surprises which have sent gold higher and the US dollar lower since its release.

The Fed statement saw it lower the GDP growth forecast and importantly also lower its forecast for inflation. This is important to financial markets as the Fed has said it will look to tighten rates when it is “reasonably confident” that inflation will hit its 2% objective over the medium term.

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With the lowering of its inflation forecast this will see it take even longer to get back to its 2% inflation objective. The Fed now sees inflation running at between 0.6-0.7% for 2015 and between 1.6-1.7% in 2016, still materially lower than the 2% figure the Fed has said it needs to be confident of hitting before it pulls the trigger on rates.

Export growth in the U.S. is also weakening according to the Fed which is an acknowledgement by the Fed of the recent strength of the US dollar.

Even taking into account the dollars biggest weekly fall since 2011 the dollar is still strong by any standard.

According to the Bloomberg Dollar Index, a measure against a basket of 10 currencies, the US dollar is trading near its highest level in at least 10 years. The dollar strength is something that is coming into consideration by the Fed, traditionally it steers clear of commenting on the dollar.

Any rate increase by the Fed is expected to send the dollar even higher. The strong dollar is making imports cheaper, reducing inflationary pressures, something the Fed is trying to lift, while at the same time making exports more expensive which puts pressure on GDP growth. A high dollar should be of a concern to the Fed.

The consensus in financial markets suggests the Fed is on track to raise rates in 2015, however it now seems the market is expecting rates to move later (e.g. September instead of June) and possible not hit the high levels previously expected.

Leading Banks such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank suggest the Fed will increase rates in September, while a recent Reuters poll of top Wall Street banks also favour a September rate increase.

I still believe we will not see a US rate increase in 2015 and even more so after the Fed statement and continuing weak data that seems to be coming out of the US such as the recent worse than expected durable goods data.

The Fed noted in its statement that “economic growth has moderated somewhat” since its January meeting, that is not a foundation for a near term rate increase. Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President and a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee Charles Evans said in a speech this week that he thinks “economic conditions are likely to evolve in a way such that it will be appropriate to hold off on raising short-term rates until 2016”.

He suggests that inflation will not hit the 2% target until 2018 and that inflation is currently “uncomfortably low”.

The Fed’s monetary policy is very much driven by data flow and what is expected and what is actually delivered and at the moment most of the data coming out is not setting the markets alight. The longer the Fed holds off moving on rates the better it will be for gold demand given it reduces the opportunity cost between holding non-interest bearing gold and investing in interest bearing assets or term deposits.

Gold also performs well in times of uncertainty so with the increased confusion as to when and by how much the Fed will increase rates, it is only going to add support to the price of gold.  

With weak data coming out of the US along with exceptionally low inflation rates, well below the Fed’s target of 2%, the Fed would be reckless to move on rates until they see solid evidence of underlying economic growth, positive wage growth and inflation heading to 2%. I do see that happening in 2015. The risks on moving too soon on rate hikes are too significant while the benefits remain relatively low which leads me to believe the Fed will be very conservative and hold off on raising rates until 2016.

In the meantime while interest rates remain low and uncertainty is at the forefront of investors’ minds gold demand is going to increase.

Now that gold has broken through US$1,200/oz, the next upside target to watch is US$1,208/oz which is the 100 day simple moving average followed by US$1,220/oz the 50 day simple moving average.  

For the original piece and more precious metals analysis and commentary, visit the Bullion Index Blog

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