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Executive Insights on the Biggest Stories That Impacted Portfolios

Jan 9, 2024

I thought I'd go through 2023 here on the threshold of 2024 and look at some of the big events that drove gold prices this year. And it was really a big year in terms of price here over the last month or so. Multiple days, we have set all time highs for gold. So I want to look back at what what happened this year that really drove those gold prices to new heights.

And when we go back and look at the start of the year, we see that the war in Ukraine was continuing, it was intensifying, and of course, geopolitical conflicts are one of the historical reasons that gold moves. And then we saw another event occur in March, and that was the banking crisis that occurred in the U.S., where we had Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, several other banks that got into trouble. And there was a lot of concern about whether or not other mid-sized banks and maybe even larger banks might be implicated in this uncertainty.

And after a month or so that passed and we got into May and we got into another one of these confrontations in Congress between the Congress and the White House over the debt limit, with all the talk about the potential for the U.S. defaulting on its debt and that continued into early June. And then in early October, of course, we had the Hamas attack on Israel and there was a very strong response of gold prices in the face of that uncertainty, once again illustrating the role that geopolitical conflict plays in driving gold prices.

And then for the finale, beginning in early November, then the Fed began sending signals that interest rates were getting ready to come down. And that's how the market began interpreting economic data. And as a result, Gold really rallied then and has rallied here through the end of the year.

I want to talk for a moment about the Federal Reserve with a focus on the Fed. And focus on the Fed is exactly the right term, because over the course of this year, that's what the market has really been focused on, not just the gold market, but all markets. But the gold market in particular has been looking for any kind of sign that the Fed was likely to begin stoping the increase, this repeated increase in interest rates or maybe begin cutting interest rates. And I think if you look back over the course of 2023, what you see is almost on a daily basis, gold prices moving, depending on what the rumors, what the speculation, what the government numbers said and what the Federal Reserve chairman or one of the members of the board of the Federal Reserve was saying about interest rates and inflation rate and the like. And the gold prices moved up and down based on relative pessimism or optimism about that fight against inflation.

And so in the context of all these geopolitical conflicts and the banking crisis that I talked about earlier, this was a thread that ran through the setting of gold prices over the course of 2023. Now, the most dramatic change that occurred, occurred in early November when the federal government issued the September Consumer Price Index. And that index, which is really viewed as an indication of how strong inflation is, those numbers came in much lower than what were expected.

And as a result, multiple markets, including the gold market, responded very strongly. And with the thought being that interest rates, the Federal Reserve would have more room to reduce interest rates now that it looked like inflation was beginning to head down. And since early November, there have been other signs that are reinforced that market conviction that in fact interest rates were going to come down and that the Federal Reserve would be lowering interest rates as inflation fell.

Let's talk for a moment about why interest rates are so important to gold and how Asian demand really plays into interest rates and the calculation of interest rates and how that affects gold prices. Here in the United States we really overlook the fact that demand for gold in the US is only about 5% of the market. The vast majority of demand for gold comes out of Asia, especially China and India. And when gold is is hot in those markets, gold prices tend to rally. Whereas if gold demand in the U.S. is hot, it really doesn't have that big of an impact because we're such a small part of the market.

So anything that is likely to increase demand in the Asian markets is going to increase the price of gold for us here in the United States. And so that's really important for those of us who are buying gold and looking for a return on that gold, appreciation on that gold. Because if we see big increases in demand in Asia, then that's very supportive of gold. Well, I'm expecting to see that in the future. And in fact, we have seen that this year. As expectations for interest rates have fallen, then the expectation is that gold is going to get cheaper in those Asian countries because they have to buy dollars in order to then purchase gold in the marketplace because gold is sold worldwide in dollars.

So if I'm trading if I'm holding Chinese yuan and I want to buy gold, then I first have to buy dollars and then buy gold. So dollars are really expensive to me. If the dollar is strong, then it costs more for me to buy gold through that transaction with dollars. And in fact, in 2023, the dollar has been very strong. It's been the strongest level in several decades. And what we're beginning to see now is a weakening of the dollar. And I think we're going to see that continue into next year. And as a result of that, gold is going to become cheaper elsewhere in the world, almost everywhere in the world. And that will increase demand for gold all over the world. Those of us who hold gold now and are purchasing gold now are going to see the benefit of that as gold prices rise.

So let's look ahead to 2024. What's in store for gold prices next year? I think there are three drivers for gold prices, two of which we've already talked about that were really important in 2023. One is geopolitical uncertainty, conflict and the like. Ukraine again, and the possibility that the war in Ukraine could expand into Eastern Europe. And that's been a very deep concern from the very beginning. And I think that's going to be more of a concern in the coming year.

Also, we have the war in Israel, and that is expanding already. It's gone beyond just the conflict between Hamas and Gaza and Israel. And it's now involving northern Israel conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon and we have conflict in the Red Sea which we're seeing attacks on international shipping that is occurring. And I think that concern is likely to grow. And of course, the real threat is that the United States and Iran become engaged in a direct conflict. Right now, the conflict between the two is through proxies. But if any kind of a conflict between the two of them were to occur that is a really big impact on gold.

And then the third area, of course, always, we, you know, these days we always have to keep an eye on North Korea and sort of the crazy saber rattling that goes on there. And just recently, we've, in the last few weeks, we've seen more of that. And then there's China. And in 2023, we saw China become increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea in pushing back against Vietnam and the Philippines. And they're becoming much more aggressive and talking about taking back Taiwan. And any kind of an attack on Taiwan has global implications because the United States, Japan and other allies in the West are all likely to be involved in any kind of a conflict between Taiwan and China. It's just a powder keg there. And as we've talked about before, political conflict always increases gold prices because people see the security of gold in uncertain times and 2024 on the geopolitical front is definitely going to be a period of significant worries and I expect expanding concerns across the globe.

The second factor, I think that's going to have a big impact in 2024 is what happens with interest rates. Here in the last two months, in 2023, the expectation that interest rates were going to fall set off a huge rally in gold prices. And over the course of 2024, I think we're going to see those expectations for interest rate cuts to be fulfilled and to be reinforced. We could see as many as seven interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve in 2024 and each time that is likely to power gold as it has in the last two months. And if there's any kind of a sign that there might be a recession in the U.S., then that will lead the market to expect the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates further and faster. And again, that will increase gold prices.

And then the third factor I think is really important for us not to forget about is really the political dysfunction in the U.S. That adds a level of uncertainty to really across the board in American culture, American governance, in the American economy. We saw all the uncertainty in Congress about the leadership in Congress, and we will definitely see the continuing uncertainty in the in the coming year around an agreement or a budget between Congress and the White House. And then, of course, 2024 as a presidential election. Any time in a presidential election that adds uncertainty, presidential elections over the last two series have engendered a great deal of uncertainty. And I think it's very likely that we're going to see a continuation of that. And it could be worse.

So once again, in an era of great uncertainty and worries, economic, political, geopolitical, all of those reinforce the desire of people to seek security in gold and have that wealth insurance the gold has represented for hundreds, if not thousands of years. We've seen this repeated over and over again through U.S. history, where in times of economic crisis and political crisis, gold has been the go to asset for individuals protecting themselves and their families.

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