I’m planning posts on forecasting the price of gold this week. This is an introductory post.
The Question of Price
What is the “price” of gold, or, rather, is there a single, integrated global gold market?
This is partly an anthropological question. Clearly in some locales, perhaps in rural India, people bring their gold jewelry to some local merchant or craftsman, and get widely varying prices. Presumably, though this merchant negotiates with a broker in a larger city of India, and trades at prices which converge to some global average. Very similar considerations apply to interest rates, which are significantly higher at pawnbrokers and so forth.
The World Gold Council uses the London PM fix, which at the time of this writing was $1,379 per troy ounce.
The Wikipedia article on gold fixing recounts the history of this twice daily price setting, dating back, with breaks for wars, to 1919.
One thing is clear, however. The “price of gold” varies with the currency unit in which it is stated. The World Gold Council, for example, supplies extensive historical data upon registering with them. Here is a chart of the monthly gold prices based on the PM or afternoon fix, dating back to 1970.
Another insight from this chart is that the price of gold may be correlated with the price of oil, which also ramped up at the end of the 1970’s and again in 2007, recovering quickly from the Great Recession in 2008-09 to surge up again by 2010-11.
But that gets ahead of our story.
The Supply and Demand for Gold
Here are two valuable tables on gold supply and demand fundamentals, based on World Gold Council sources, via an An overview of global gold market and gold price forecasting. I’ve more to say about the forecasting model in that article, but the descriptive material is helpful (click to enlarge).
Gold is an unusual commodity in that one of its primary demand components – jewelry – can contribute to the supply-side. Thus, gold is in some sense renewable and recyclable.
Table 1 above shows the annual supplies in this period in the last decade ran on the order of three to four thousand tonnes, where a tonne is 2,240 pounds and equal conveniently to 1000 kilograms.
Demand for jewelry is a good proportion of this annual supply, with demands by ETF’s or exchange traded funds rising rapidly in this period. The industrial and dental demand is an order of magnitude lower and steady.
One of the basic distinctions is between the monetary versus nonmonetary uses or demands for gold.
In total, central banks held about 30,000 tonnes of gold as reserves in 2008.
Another estimated 30,000 tonnes was held in inventory for industrial uses, with a whopping 100,000 tonnes being held as jewelry.
India and China constitute the largest single countries in terms of consumer holdings of gold, where it clearly functions as a store of value and hedge against uncertainty.
Gold Market Activity
In addition to actual purchases of gold, there are gold futures. The CME Group hosts a website with gold future listings. The site states,
Gold futures are hedging tools for commercial producers and users of gold. They also provide global gold price discovery and opportunities for portfolio diversification. In addition, they: Offer ongoing trading opportunities, since gold prices respond quickly to political and economic events, Serve as an alternative to investing in gold bullion, coins, and mining stocks
Some of these contracts are recorded at exchanges, but it seems the bulk of them are over-the-counter.
A study by the London Bullion Market Association estimates that 10.9bn ounces of gold, worth $15,200bn, changed hands in the first quarter of 2011 just in London’s markets. That’s 125 times the annual output of the world’s gold mines – and twice the quantity of gold that has ever been mined.
The Forecasting Problem
The forecasting problem for gold prices, accordingly, is complex. Extant series for gold prices do exist and underpin a lot of the market activity at central exchanges, but the total volume of contracts and gold exchanging hands is many times the actual physical quantity of the product. And there is a definite political dimension to gold pricing, because of the monetary uses of gold and the actions of central banks increasing and decreasing their reserves.
But the standard approaches to the forecasting problem are the same as can be witnessed in any number of other markets. These include the usual time series methods, focused around arima or autoregressive moving average models and multivariate regression models. More up-to-date tactics revolve around tests of cointegration of time series and VAR models. And, of course, one of the fundamental questions is whether gold prices in their many incarnations are best considered to be a random walk.