The Inflation of Gold

Note: I originally published this on

There are gold bulls, and there are gold bears. There are those who will tell you gold is going to $6000, and those who will tell you it’s going to $600. The reality will depend in no small part on how major macro events unfold over the next several years (see a couple of gold-moving scenarios at bottom). What I’d like to focus on here is the dynamics of gold supply and demand, in order to introduce the notion that gold itself has a rate of inflation. Just as a rising US money supply can breed inflation in the broader economy, a rising gold supply can breed “inflation” in gold, meaning that gold’s purchasing power (its price) can drop in dollar terms.

US Money Supply

The St. Louis Federal Reserve does an excellent job of tracking the money supply through its Adjusted Monetary Base, which sums up the various components in the money supply to create a single metric. Their latest research shows that the Adjusted Monetary Base did indeed climb rapidly during the tail end of the recession, but that it is now showing zero growth. The velocity of money has yet to recover to pre-recession levels as well, which explains why the 2008/2009 money drop by the Fed did not cause broader inflation.

Gold Supply and Demand

First, gold supply: the World Gold Council reports that mine production has averaged 2497 tonnes per year over the last five years (see the text in supply section of article). This amounts to a 1.5% annual increase in physical gold stocks. While 57% of this gold is used in jewelry, and 11% goes to industrial uses, a key feature of the gold market is that gold is never destroyed. Other commodities like oil are constantly being consumed – hence fears about peak oil, or potash shortages. But since gold is never destroyed, gold demand must constantly rise to account for both increased mining production and increased total stocks. Currently, investment demand is the key driver of gold prices – while both jewelry and industrial gold demand can be met by current mining production, investment demand is being met only through increased gold recycling.

Gold vs USD

Long term gold charts show that previous gold rallies occurred in the context of high inflation. The current rally has occurred with an absence of high inflation, as the CPI crossed 5% only once in the last decade. Back to the original idea – the world’s gold supply is rising faster than the US money supply at the moment. If this situation persists, then a gold collapse is inevitable, as gold’s inexorable supply increase couples with a stable dollar to push gold prices down. Clearly gold bugs believe the opposite: that inflation will come roaring back, and that dollar money supply will explode. But anything less, and gold prices are likely coming back to earth.

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