PIMCO Report: Gold ‘Compelling Inflation Hedge’

October 2, 2012 at 10:26


PIMCO the largest mutual fund in the world have come out with there thoughts on gold:

When it comes to investing in gold, investors often see the world in black and white. Some people have a deep, almost religious conviction that gold is a useless, barbarous relic with no yield; it’s an asset no rational investor would ever want. Others love it, seeing it as the only asset that can offer protection from the coming financial catastrophe, which is always just around the corner.

Our views are more nuanced and, we believe, provide a balanced framework for assessing value. Our bottom line: Given current valuations and central bank policies, we see gold as a compelling inflation hedge and store of value that is potentially superior to fiat currencies.

The reason is that the supply of gold is not at the whim of any governmental power; it is fundamentally supply constrained. Total outstanding above-ground gold stocks – the amount that has been extracted over the past few millennia – are roughly 155,000 metric tons. Each year mines supply roughly 2,600 additional metric tons, or 1.7% of the outstanding total. This is why gold can be thought of as the currency without a printing press.

There is no doubt that gold prices, which averaged $1,630 in August, are high. However, in inflation-adjusted terms, gold is 12% below its 1980 peak. Inflation in 1980 hit 15% year-over-year, and inflation today is running much lower so some may question the validity of comparisons to 1980. While we believe that inflation over the next several years is likely to be higher, on average, than it has been over the past 20 years and that the tail risks are for much higher inflation, this speaks more to the outlook for the nominal price of gold.

The price of gold in real or inflation-adjusted terms is less affected by the rate of inflation and more impacted by the level of real interest rates because as discussed previously, it is the real interest rate that drives the relative attractiveness of holding gold relative to other currencies. With real interest rates negative on average for the next 20 years, it is of little surprise that gold is trading near its all-time inflation-adjusted high.

In dollar terms, gold is still 34% below its 1980 peak, as US per capita GDP is higher today. Furthermore, this is a relatively US-centric view, and considering that China represents the largest source of global gold demand, we believe investors take an overly myopic view at their peril. Chinese per capita GDP has grown at an 18% annualized rate for the past 10 years, compared with just 3% per year in the US. Thus, while gold might seem quite expensive to those of us in developed economies, its price seems much less expensive to those in faster-growing emerging economies like China.

Another way to think about the relative value of gold is to consider what a return to the gold standard might look like. In other words, what if the entire world’s gold were used to back the global supply of fiat currency? Globally there are roughly $12.5 trillion in physical and electronic currency reserves. Given that there are 155,000 metric tons of gold above ground, this equals an approximate price of $2,500 per ounce if all of the world’s reserves were to be backed by the entire stock of above-ground physical gold.