Gold’s Out of Favor: Just Look at Shrinking SPDR Holdings

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Assets in the world’s biggest exchange-traded product backed by gold slumped to the lowest since the start of the financial crisis as equities rallied and investors prepared for higher U.S. interest rates.

Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust dropped 0.2 percent to 704.22 metric tons on Wednesday, the lowest since September 2008. That’s the month that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed, spurring a rout across global markets. Since peaking in December 2012, assets have contracted 48 percent.

Gold prices have been trapped in a bear market as the U.S. economy’s recovery from the crisis cut demand for haven assets. Purchases of American Eagle gold coins from the U.S. Mint had the weakest May in eight years and Perth Mint’s sales were the lowest since 2012. World equities climbed in 2015 as U.S. stocks reached a record and the main gauge in China more than doubled in 12 months.

“Demand is terrible,” said David Lennox, a resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney. “We see no real joy coming out of the physical market for gold. Speculators got hammered a couple of years ago and they’re not going to come back in a hurry.”

After Lehman’s bankruptcy, the world’s central banks unleashed unprecedented stimulus, sending gold to a record in September 2011 on bets that inflation would accelerate. Instead, consumer costs stayed stable, and the precious metal fell in 2013 and 2014. Prices are little changed this year amid bets the Federal Reserve is getting closer to raising rates.

Higher rates diminish the appeal of bullion, since it doesn’t pay interest like competing assets, such as new bonds.

Futures Prices

Gold futures for August delivery slid 0.5 percent to settle at $1,180.40 an ounce at 1:39 p.m. on the Comex in New York. The metal has lost 39 percent since rising to an all-time high of $1,923.70 in September 2011.

Global holdings in gold-backed ETPs dropped to 1,586.9 tons on Wednesday, the lowest since 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The hoard slumped 40 percent since reaching a record 2,632.5 tons in December 2012.

Not everyone is selling. Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson maintained his holding in the SPDR for seven straight quarters through March 31, according to a filing last month. The 10.23 million share stake is the fund’s largest.

The outlook for increasing borrowing costs has also driven gains in the dollar, reducing demand for precious metals as alternative assets. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is 4.1 percent higher in 2015.

Higher Dollar

“There’s a mindset that higher interest rates translate into a higher dollar,” Frank McGhee, the head dealer at Alliance Financial LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “Even if it doesn’t, the higher interest rates you’re going to have are still going to put a lid on the upside for gold by damping inflation.”

Silver futures for July delivery added less than 0.1 percent to $15.96 an ounce on the Comex.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, platinum futures for July delivery fell 0.9 percent to $1,105.20 an ounce, and palladium for September delivery declined 0.1 percent to $742.85 an ounce.

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