We spend a lot of time writing about the gold price – and what influences it. Almost every time we do, we find ourselves writing about North Korea. In almost every situation, a move by North Korea is followed by a dramatic spike in the gold price.
All that was long before the historic meeting of Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in. Since then, the Korean war has been declared ‘over’, a US-North Korea summit has been declared both ‘imminent’ and ‘uncertain’, and the rhetoric between the two nations on the Korean peninsula has been ratcheted right back up again.
To say it’s been a fairly eventful month in the geopolitical calendar is quite the understatement.
So logically, this über-dramatic month should have sent the gold price sailing all around the place. Right?
Well, not as such. So what exactly is going on?
Geopolitics and the gold price
Gold remains one of the most successful safe-haven commodities in history. You can see this in practice by taking a simple look at a gold price chart. When was gold most successful? After the financial crisis of 2008, the Eurozone crisis of 2012 and the Brexit referendum of 2016. In almost every tangible situation, when people are worried about the future, both economically and politically, they buy gold.
There’s a simple explanation for this. Gold has a long history of being more trustworthy than national currencies like Sterling, the Euro or the Dollar. Currencies tend to lose a small amount of their value each year – and much more significant amounts during periods of financial difficulty.
Gold does the opposite. In fact, we saw a particularly good microcosm of this during the final few weeks of phase one Brexit negotiations in December.
When a worrying geopolitical event like a North Korean missile test occurs, gold tends to increase in value. When things look calmer, the opposite happens.
The gold price in May
On the 27th April, we saw some of the most encouraging scenes from the North Korean peninsula in decades.
For the first time in a generation, genuine peace between the Koreas seems not just possible, but tangible. By the logic of geopolitics, you’d expect that to noticeably dampen the gold price. In fact, not much at all happened to the gold price over the next few days. A delayed reaction? Or did the resulting dip four days later ultimately have more to do with the dollar than Korea? Difficult to say.
As the situation between the two Koreas and the US worsened over the coming weeks however, gold continued to fall. That’s pretty much the opposite direction we’d expect it to move.
In fact, one of the most dramatic drops in the gold price so far this year occurred in the hours following the latest Israeli attack on Palestine. Between the morning spot prices of the14th and 16th, gold lost 1.4 per cent of its value. Again, not the direction logic dictates gold should travel.
An evolving asset
So, has gold turned its back on centuries of history, and decided it rather likes political certainty after all? Perhaps? Probably not. In truth, it’d be short-sighted to draw a correlation like that from less than a month’s worth of data.
We can’t draw much from this for sure. But there are a couple of things that are likely to have caused this.
The first is that these geopolitical events actually are having the effect on gold we’d expect – they’re just being counterbalanced by stronger forces working in the opposite direction. After all, geopolitical uncertainty isn’t the only force that affects gold. There’s a good chance that a strengthening dollar and improved US economic forces have been depressing gold prices faster than Korean uncertainty can raise them.
The other likely cause is that investors are simply getting a little bit desensitized to geopolitical uncertainty. With a different disaster coming out of the White House every other week, and Korean fortunes changing between a peaceful utopia and certain disaster almost by the day – there’s a good chance gold investors just don’t really know what to think any more.
Should I still buy gold?
Despite this month, we still think that gold remains a safe haven in the world of investment. It just seems increasingly likely that it’s going to take more than Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump bickering about their nuclear weapons to see any evidence of it.
What we can take from this, however, is that the places we thought we should be looking to for information on the gold price are subtly changing. It seems that influence on the gold price is becoming more and more concentrated on the American economy, the dollar and the Federal Reserve.