Gold Becomes the Biggest Winner of 2016

Gold on Pace for Best Monthly Gains Since 2012
  • Money managers boost net-long positions to highest in a year
  • Inflows to SPDR Gold Shares beat all other U.S. ETFs

Gold’s comeback is dominating 2016.

The precious metal is the year’s best-performing major asset. Its 16 percent gain is topping gauges of high-yield and investment grade bonds, Treasuries, all currencies and major stock indexes in developing and emerging countries.

Turmoil across global equity and currency markets has sparked demand for a haven. Speculators raised their net-long position in gold to the highest in a year. SPDR Gold Shares, the world’s largest bullion exchange-traded fund, attracted $4.55 billion of new money in 2016, the most among all U.S.-listed ETFs, according to Bloomberg data as of Feb. 28. It’s a turnaround from just a few months ago, when investors were selling the metal, sending prices in December to a five-year low.

“Gold has been the biggest story of this year,” said Dan Denbow, a portfolio manager at the USAA Precious Metals & Minerals Fund in San Antonio, which oversees $600 million. “Last summer, people were calling it a barbaric relic, and nobody could care less about gold. Now, it’s slowly generating more and more buying.”

QuickTake The Rise and Fall of Gold

February Gains

Futures advanced 10 percent since the end of January to $1,230.70 an ounce, poised for the biggest February gain since futures trading data began in 1975. This year, U.S. treasuries rose 2.9 percent, while the MSCI All-Country World Index of shares fell 6.7 percent. The yen, 2016’s best-performing major currency, rose 6.5 percent against the dollar.

The net-long position in gold futures and options jumped 32 percent to 123,566 contracts in the week ended Feb. 23, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released three days later. Long wagers climbed for an eighth straight week, the longest streak since 2012.

Deteriorating global economies have increased concerns that the slowdown will be a drag on U.S. growth, raising gold’s appeal as a safety asset. At the same time, there is increasing doubt that the Federal Reserve will move as quickly as it planned to raise interest rates because the expansion may weaken. That increases the allure of bullion as a store of value.

Global holdings in gold ETFs surged 15 percent in 2016 to 1,682.6 metric tons. That’s the highest since Oct. 2014, and the assets are on pace for the biggest quarterly increase since 2010.

Analysts Divided

The changing economic picture has pressured some analysts to rethink their approach to gold. Georgette Boele, a strategist at ABN AMRO Group NV, had been a bear and is now reversing her negative outlook. Boele boosted her year-end forecast to $1,300, from $900. The metal dropped 10 percent in 2015 to $1,060.20. A gain this year would the first annual increase since 2012.

Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. economist Barnabas Gan, the most accurate precious-metals forecaster tracked by Bloomberg last year, last week called bullion a “superhero” because of its performance this year, and said prices could reach $1,400. Still, that would happen only if risk aversion intensifies, he said.

“I dubbed gold as a superhero only because it was the biggest winner since the start of the year amongst other asset classes,” Gan said in an e-mail Monday, adding that his base-case forecast is for prices to drop. They could retreat to $1,000 to $1,150 by the end of the year if Fed officials follow through with interest-rate increases, he said.

There are other naysayers. Robin Bhar, a London-based analyst at Societe Generale SA, is keeping his average fourth-quarter price forecast at $955. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Jeffrey Currie and Max Layton reiterated in a Feb. 15 report their December forecast that prices will drop for a fourth straight year, dipping to $1,000 by the end of 2016. The Goldman analysts and Societe Generale’s Bhar expect that the Fed will raise rates this year, eroding the appeal of the metal because it doesn’t pay dividends or yields.

“We’re not ready to make the cross into the bullish camp yet,” Bhar said in a telephone interview. “It’s a bit painful for the bears, ourselves included, but we just don’t see the evidence yet. We expect global turmoil to start easing. Obviously, if it doesn’t, it’s another warning sign, and we’ll see further buying of gold, further inflows into the gold ETFs.”