Stock Strategist

Our Updated Take on Gold Prices

Vahid Fathi, D.Sc.

I never thought I'd see the day that gold markets went into backwardation (spot prices higher than futures prices). However, the seemingly unthinkable has indeed happened. Of course, I'm not suggesting that backwardation will be a permanent feature of the market, as the misalignment of interest rates that theoretically caused gold backwardation is most likely not a permanent feature, either. Nonetheless, the question remains: Where do we go from here? This writer speculates that gold could very well turn out to be in a win-win situation, whether there is deflation or inflation. How is this possible? Adam Smith told us that gold is a barbaric relic, although it is more commonly known as the metal of kings. I remind you all that the world is still full of barbarians.

The above-ground stocks of gold, presumably available for disinvestment at any time, are some 60-fold of annual production of about 2,500 metric tons. This is why gold has never been in backwardation. Unlike any other commodity, all gold that has been mined throughout the ages is still out there somewhere. At an estimated 150,000 metric tons, this above-ground stock of gold--with most obvious portions in private hands or tucked away in central bank vaults--dwarfs annual production. Unlike industrial commodities such as copper, aluminum, or zinc, where prices can go into backwardation at the slightest hint of a temporary supply disruption from major producers, contango pricing has always been the norm for gold, where futures prices exceed the spot price.

Vahid Fathi, D.Sc. does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar's editorial policies.