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The global stash of gold in exchange-traded funds has risen to a record after a long run of accumulation that’s been given added impetus in recent weeks by the fall-out from the widening coronavirus crisis.
Worldwide holdings in bullion-backed ETFs climbed to 2,573.9 tons on Monday, topping the previous peak set in 2012, according to an initial Bloomberg tally. The latest additions follow four straight years of inflows, and come as prices of the traditional haven trade near the highest level since 2013.
Gold has risen as the health emergency centered in China hurts appetite for risk at a time when U.S. interest rates are expected to remain low for some time, with some investors seeing further easing from the Federal Reserve. Among them, DoubleLine Capital LP Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Gundlach said on Friday he now sees a 90% chance for a Fed rate cut this year. Simmering geopolitical tensions have also driven interest in bullion.
“Gold ended 2019 with its best gains in a decade, closing up by 18%, so momentum was well and truly building in the ETF sector well before the coronavirus,” Gavin Wendt, senior resource analyst at MineLife Pty in Sydney, said in an email. “Evidence is growing for U.S. dollar weakness, which could last for at least the first half of 2020 and beyond, providing further impetus for gold.”
The record means investors are holding an unprecedented volume of bullion in ETFs even as U.S. equities remain near all-time highs. After surging 29% last year, the S&P 500 Index set its last closing high on Jan. 17, although it’s fallen for the past two weeks as the virus led to concerns about a global pandemic.
Monetary policy and geopolitics have fueled the bulk of annual ETF inflows, while the price rise also drew in momentum-driven buying, the World Gold Council said in its demand trends report for 2019.
The last time the bullion holdings peaked was in December 2012 as the Fed held interest rates near zero, while stepping up an asset-purchase program in a bid to boost growth and bring down unemployment. The ETF hoard then contracted in the three years to 2015.
The Fed held rates last month after three cuts in 2019 to extend a record U.S. expansion. At the same time, the bank’s been purchasing Treasury bills at the rate of $60 billion a month to help to relieve strain in repo markets, although Chairman Jerome Powell has said this isn’t a return to quantitative easing.
Spot gold fell 0.3% to $1,572.28 an ounce at 6:21 a.m. in London on Tuesday after rising 4.7% last month.
Bullion has also benefited from geoploitical tensions. Last month, Tehran struck a base in Iraq staffed by the U.S. military in retaliation for Washington’s killing-by-drone of a senior Iranian general. The flare-up lifted gold above $1,600 on an intraday basis.
“The world remains a volatile place, which promises to continue to provide support for gold in 2020, and boost further inflows into ETFs,” said MineLife’s Wendt.
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