Central bank reserves are typically constructed according to three guiding principles: safety, liquidity and return. The Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the significance of these principles and, by extension, the importance of smart and sustainable reserve management.
The COVID pandemic and the ensuing economic lockdowns around the world have slashed global growth forecasts in 2020, but expectations of the speed of the economic recovery are quite varied. We analyse the potential performance of gold across four hypothetical scenarios provided by Oxford Economics.
Globally, gold-backed ETFs (gold ETFs) added 170 tonnes(t) – net inflows of US$9.3bn (+5.1%) – in April, boosting holdings to a new all-time high of 3,355t.1 Assets under management (AUM) also reached a new record high of US$184bn as gold in US dollars moved higher by 5.8%. Inflows have been strong and consistent in recent months, but not unprecedented. Rolling twelve-month inflows of 879t just surpassed those of 2009 and 2016, while rolling six-month inflows are less than two-thirds of the 457t of inflows in the comparable time periods of 2009 and 2016.
The global COVID-19 pandemic fuelled safe-haven investment demand for gold, offsetting marked weakness in consumer-focused sectors of the market.
The benefits of certain portfolio hedges came into clear focus during the 2008-2009 financial crisis and did so again during the subsequent European sovereign debt crisis, the 2018 December stock market pullback and the most recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Global gold-backed ETFs (gold ETFs) and similar products added 298 tonnes(t), or net inflows of US$23bn, across all regions in the first quarter of 2020 – the highest quarterly amount ever in absolute US dollar terms and the largest tonnage additions since 2016. During the past year, gold ETFs added 659t, the highest on a rolling annual basis since the financial crisis, with assets under management (AUM) growing 57% over the same period.
Gold plays a prominent role in reserve asset management, being one of the few assets that is universally permitted by the investment guidelines of the world’s central banks. This is in part due to the gold market being deep and liquid – a key requirement of reserve asset managers.
Gold benefits from diverse sources of demand: as an investment, a reserve asset, a luxury good and a technology component. It is highly liquid, no one’s liability, carries no credit risk, and is scarce, historically preserving its value over time.
We believe that the recent volatility in the gold price was driven by massive liquidations across all assets and likely magnified by leveraged positions and rule-based trading.