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Gold cannot be hedged out, outperforms all currencies

19 Mar. 2017 10:53 PM IST

Demonetisation, stricter Indian government rules and positive US economic figures have led to a fall in gold demand and world prices. 
But gold remains the most sought after metal across the globe despite losing its sheen since October, 2016, shortly before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced scrapping of high value Rs 1000 and 5000 currency notes. Ironically the demand for gold-backed ETFs and similar products reached a three-year high in 2016, says the World Gold Council (WGC). 
The demand for gold rose 2 percent in 2016 to 4,308.7 tonnes, the WGC said pointing that investment demand was up 70 percent reaching its highest level since 2012. 
China continued to boost the demand, however, as its growth slowed down. Attention also turned to Europe, where investors added around 114 tonnes to their holdings as concerns grew around the busy electoral calendar in 2017, with the Netherlands, France and Germany all going to the polls, says the WGC.
It is a pointer that gold remains a reserve currency amid economic turmoil.
The WGC predicts that gradually Indian demand is also to grow as it comes out of the shock of note-ban. The falling prices may also attract investors. 
The US data, however, at present are likely to be the greatest factor in determining the prices which are seen sliding below $ 1200 an ounce. Better US figures, improving job situation, prospects of Federal Reserve hiking interest rates and a stronger dollar are changing the dynamics. The dollar is more lucrative as investment for its easier liquidity. In Singapore, gold  touched $ 1196.70 an ounce.
The WGC indicates that India’s fight against black money is having an impact on gold trade. The government during the past about 18 months had imposed several measures including putting a curb on high value cash purchases, using tax-related PAN numbers, tax raids on jewelers, and promotion of digitized trading. In November 2015, three gold-related schemes – India gold coin, gold monetization and sovereign gold bond schemes - were launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tap household gold stocks of around 22,000 tonnes. The WGC, however, also states that many of these steps had less than the desired effect. It notes that instead of nuggets, the demand for jewellery is growing. India is the world’s largest market for gold jewellery, representing about 822 tons (746 tonnes) of gold in 2010. Indian women own about 19,841 tons (18,000 tonnes) of gold jewellery.
 “Over time, we anticipate that economic growth and greater transparency within India’s gold market will push demand higher. By 2020 we see Indian consumers buying 850 and 950 tonnes”, WGC says.
The RBI has set up a committee in August last to study Indian household financing pattern and why they spend large sum of money on gold. 
The central banks also are increasing the gold purchases.
The RBI itself, despite preaching virtues of not holding physical gold, in November 2009, bought 200 tonnes of gold around $ 6.7 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that boosted gold’s share in overall RBI reserves to 6.13 percent from 3.3 percent. The purchase came close on the heels of the global financial crisis, making it look like an effort to safeguard the country’s forex reserves against the impact of the crisis. 
The RBI with 557.7 tonnes of gold holds the 11th highest reserves in the world. The RBI statement of March 3, 2017 says that the value is worth Rs 1329 billion. 
The IMF rules say that countries can make payments to it in gold. It virtually makes it an international currency.
According to the WGC, emerging market central banks have been big buyers of gold since 2009. The purpose of holding gold as a reserve asset by central banks is to diversify risks. This is the exact reason why most Indians buy gold when they can. The central banks across the globe are apprehensive about the present rise of dollar. 
They have a feeling it can crash any moment as the fundamentals are doubtful. Its rise is more linked to crisis in Europe, China and Japan. It can change with a slight alteration of factors of the economy of any one, may be even India.
The gold investment demand, WGC says, would remain firm for six factors, heightened political and geopolitical risks, currency depreciation, rising inflation expectations, inflated stock market valuations, long-term Asian growth and opening of new markets.
In short, the crisis in commercial banks across the world, including India, and low performing economies, makes gold dependable.
It calls for the nations to reformulate their financial policies. The decades of efforts by governments to decouple from gold has not succeeded. Currencies may not have technically gold standards, but the governments across are trying to hedge these and the economies against gold reserves.
European countries are trying to boost economies through various stimuli, which have a high social cost. It makes their currencies volatile and recently many lost against dollar, including British pound amid Brexit and feared exit of many others from EU.
So the world economy since the 2007-08 crises has yet to stabilize. The US growth is uncertain in the long run more so as President Donald Trump experiments. Even Gulf nations are facing difficulties amid slump in oil prices raising questions whether oil should be called liquid gold.
Emerging economies face the worst uncertainties. India though remains the fastest growing economy; the global uncertainties are impacting it in many ways. The country is doing many experiments to do away with the gold, but it remains an integral part of the economy. Mere government rules may not change the scenario though it may impact the course in the short run.
WGC forecasts that as India comes out of shadow of demonetization and is bound to grow so would gold demand. It should be viewed as positive and not a spanner for the economy
The policy makers need to look the gold paradigm from new perspective. All major currencies have depreciated over the past century. It has to be integrated with real economy. Gold cannot be hedged out.

   
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Shivaji Sarkar