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Gold’s Critical Metric

By Jeff Clark, Casey Research

There are many reasons why gold is still our favorite investment – from inflation fears and sovereign debt concerns to deeper, systemic economic problems. But let’s be honest: It’s been rising for over 11 years now, and only the imprudent would fail to think about when the run might end.

Is it time to start eyeing the exit? In a word, no. Here’s why.

There’s one indicator that clearly signals we’re still in the bull market – and further, that we can expect prices to continue to rise. That indicator is negative real interest rates.

The real interest rate is simply the nominal rate minus inflation. For example, if you earn 4% on an interest-bearing investment and inflation is 2%, your real return is +2%. Conversely, if your investment earns 1% but inflation is 3%, your real rate is -2%.

This calculation is the same regardless of how high either rate may be: a 15% interest rate and 13% inflation still nets you 2%. This is why high interest rates are not necessarily negative for gold; it’s the real rate that impacts what gold will ultimately do.

What History Tells Us

The chart below calculates the real interest rate by extracting annualized inflation from the 10-year Treasury nominal rate. Gray highlighted areas are the periods when the real interest rate was below zero, and as you can see, this is when gold has performed well.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Gold climbs when real interest rates are low or falling, while high or rising real rates negatively impact it. This pattern was true in the 1970s and it’s true today.

A closer study of this chart tells us there’s actually a critical number for real rates that seem to have the most impact on gold. Take a look at how gold performs when real rates are at 2% or below.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The reason for this phenomenon is straightforward. When real interest rates are at or below zero, cash or debt instruments (like bonds) cease being effective because the return is lower than inflation. In these cases, the investment is actually losing purchasing power – regardless of what the investment pays. An investor’s interest thus shifts to assets that offer returns above inflation… or at least a vehicle where money doesn’t lose value. Gold is one of the most reliable and proven tools in this scenario.

Politicians in the US, EU, and a range of other countries are keeping interest rates low, which, in spite of a low CPI, pushes real rates below zero. This makes cash and Treasuries guaranteed losers right now. Not only are investors maintaining purchasing power with gold, they’re outpacing most interest-bearing investments due to the rising price of the metal.

Here’s another way to verify this trend. As the following chart shows, from January 1970 through January 1980 gold returned a total of 1,832.6%. This is much higher than inflation during that decade, which totaled 105.8%.

(Click on image to enlarge)

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