European edition

Sectors: Investment

New decade, renewed challenges

European investors have seen turbulent times in the last decade. The sovereign debt crisis which immediately followed the Global Financial Crisis highlighted the need for robust risk management. As a new decade has begun, investors face an expanding list of challenges around asset management and portfolio construction.1

Persistent ultra-low interest rates

European investors have had to endure low and negative interest rates since the Global Financial Crisis. As with previous crises, and more recently the onset of COVID-19, policy makers continue to navigate their way through by keeping rates low in order to support economic growth. But low interest rates can push investors to seek out riskier assets at elevated valuation levels to achieve higher returns. Persistently low interest rates also reduce the opportunity cost of holding gold and highlight its attributes as a source of genuine, long-term returns – particularly when compared to historically high levels of global negative-yielding debt – and provide much needed diversification.

The impact of loose monetary policy could also lead to unintended consequences on asset performance and distort asset allocations for years to come. Additionally, widespread fiscal stimuli and ballooning government debt are raising concerns about a long-term run up of inflation.

Trade tensions and geopolitical uncertainty

Investors in the region are faced with several geopolitical risks, both local and global. The uncertainty and volatility, both financially and politically, caused by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (“Brexit”) has posed a serious risk to investor portfolios. Beyond this, a deterioration of relations between the US and China, as well as greater levels of protectionism and trade tensions presents a significant threat to global demand This adds up to a very real risk for European economies, with Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy in the top 10 exporting nations globally.3

ESG considerations

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are now decisive in shaping asset selection or strategies. According to Mercer, 89% of European investors now take ESG factors into account when choosing investments.4 This is in line with wider societal expectations but also driven by a host of legal and regulatory changes. The moves towards an increased understanding of this wider set of risks, and actions to mitigate their negative impacts, has also been a key factor in shaping the evolution of the gold supply chain, as well as gold’s developing role as a climate-change risk mitigation asset.5

The role of gold

Investors in Europe have long recognised the benefits of gold. Per capita gold consumption in Germany and Switzerland is among the highest in the world.6 However, institutional investors also stand to benefit from allocating a proportion of their portfolio to gold. In today’s environment, we believe that gold has an increasingly relevant role to play in helping European investors tackle the risk and uncertainty that lies ahead.

    The increased relevance of gold 

    Investors have embraced alternatives to traditional stocks and bonds in pursuit of diversification and higher risk-adjusted returns. The share of non-traditional assets among global pension funds increased from 7% in 1999 to 23% in 20197 (Chart 1).

    Gold allocations have been recipients of this shift. Gold is increasingly recognised as a mainstream investment, evidenced by the fact that global investment demand has grown by an average of 14% per year since 2001 and the gold price has increased by almost four-fold in euro terms over the same period.8

       

      Chart 1: Investors continue to add alternative investments, including gold, to their portfolios

      Chart 1: Global investors continue to add alternative investments, including gold, to their portfolios* - Japan edition

      Sources: World Gold Council, Willis Towers Watson; Disclaimer

      *As of December 2019. Based on Willis Towers Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2019, published February 2020.

       

      The principal factors behind this growth include: 

      • Emerging market growth: economic expansion –particularly in China and India – increased and diversified gold’s consumer and investor base (Chart 16, p13 and Chart 27, p16 in the full report)
      • Market access: the launch of gold-backed ETFs in 2003 facilitated access to the gold market and materially bolstered interest in gold as a strategic investment, reduced total cost of ownership and increased efficiencies (Focus 1, p2 and Chart 17, p13 in the full report)
      • Market risk: the global financial crisis prompted a renewed focus on effective risk management and an appreciation of uncorrelated, highly liquid assets such as gold (Chart 19, p13 in the full report). Today, trade tensions, the growth of populist politics and concerns about the economic and political outlook have encouraged investors to reexamine gold as a traditional hedge in times of turmoil (Chart 28 and Chart 29, p16 in the full report
      • Monetary policy: persistently low interest rates reduce the opportunity cost of holding gold and highlight its attributes as a source of genuine, long-term returns, particularly when compared to historically high levels of global negative-yielding debt (Chart 26 and Table 2, p15 in the full report)
      • Central bank demand: a surge of interest in gold among central banks across the world, commonly used in foreign reserves for safety and diversification, has encouraged other investors to consider gold’s positive investment attributes (Chart 18, p13 in the full report).

      Gold’s strategic role

      Gold is a clear complement to stocks, bonds and broad-based portfolios. A store of wealth and a hedge against systemic risk, currency depreciation and inflation, gold has historically improved portfolios’ risk-adjusted returns, delivered positive returns, and provided liquidity to meet liabilities in times of market stress.

      1. A source of returns

      Gold is long considered a beneficial asset during periods of uncertainty. Historically, it generated long-term positive returns in both good times and bad. Looking back almost half a century, the price of gold, measured in euros,10 has increased by an average of nearly 12% per year since 1971 when the gold standard collapsed.11 Over this period, gold’s long-term return was comparable to stocks and higher than bonds.12 Gold has also outperformed other major asset classes over the past two decades (Chart 3 and Chart 20, p14 in the full report). 

       

      Chart 3: Gold has delivered positive returns over the long run, outperforming key asset classes

      Chart 3: Gold has delivered positive returns over the long run, outperforming key asset classes

      Sources: Bloomberg, ICE Benchmark Administration, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      *As of 31 December 2019. Computations in euros of total return indices for Barclays EUR Cash Index, Barclays Pan-European Bond Aggregate Index, MSCI Europe Index, MSCI World ex Europe Index, MSCI Emerging Market Index, Bloomberg Commodity Index, and spot for LBMA Gold Price PM. For compounded annual growth rates see Chart 20 in the full report.

       

      This duality reflects the diverse sources of demand for gold and differentiates it from other investment assets. Gold is used to protect and enhance wealth over the long-term and it operates as a means of exchange, because it has global recognition and is no one’s liability. Gold is also in demand as a luxury good, valued by consumers across the world. And it is a key component in electronics.13  These diverse sources of demand give gold a particular resilience: the potential to deliver solid returns in good times and in bad (Focus 2, p5).

      Beating inflation, combating deflation

      Gold is long considered a hedge against inflation and the data confirms this. The average annual return of nearly 12% since 1971 has outpaced the European consumer price index (CPI). 

      Gold also protects investors against extreme inflation. In years when inflation was higher than 3%, gold’s price increased 15% on average (Chart 4). Over the long term, therefore, gold has not just preserved capital but helped it grow. 

      Notably too, research by Oxford Economics shows that gold should do well in periods of deflation.14 Such periods are characterised by low interest rates, reduced consumption and investment, and financial stress, all of which tend to foster demand for gold.

       

      Chart 4: Gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation

      Chart 4: Gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation

      Gold returns in euros as a function of annual inflation*

      * Based on y-o-y changes of the LBMA Gold Price PM and European CPI between 1971 and 2019. 
      **For each year on the sample, real return = (1+nominal return)/(1+inflation)-1.

       

      Chart 5: Gold has outperformed all major fiat currencies over time

      Chart 4: Gold has outperformed all major fiat currencies over time

      Relative value between major currencies and gold since 1900*

      Sources: Bloomberg, Harold Marcuse – UC Santa Barbara, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      *As of 31 December 2019. Based on the annual average price of a currency relative to the gold price.

      **The ‘Mark’ was the currency of the late German Empire. It was originally known as the Goldmark and backed by gold until 1914. It was known as the Papermark thereafter.

       

      Outperforming fiat currencies

      Investor demand has been boosted by persistently low interest rates and concerns about the outlook for the dollar, as these factors affect the perceived opportunity cost of holding gold.

      Historically, major currencies were pegged to gold. That changed with the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971. Since then, gold has significantly outperformed all major currencies as a means of exchange (Chart 5 p4). This outperformance was particularly marked immediately after the end of the Gold Standard and, subsequently, when major economies defaulted. A key factor behind this robust performance is that the supply growth of gold has changed little over time – increasing by approximately 1.6% per year over the past 20 years.15 By contrast, fiat money can be printed in unlimited quantities to support monetary policy, as exemplified by the Quantitative Easing (QE) measures in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

      2. Diversification that works

      The benefits of diversification are widely acknowledged – but effective diversifiers are hard to find. Many assets are increasingly correlated as market uncertainty rises and volatility is more pronounced, driven in part by risk-on/risk-off investment decisions. As a result, many so-called diversifiers fail to protect portfolios when investors need them most. 

      Gold is different, in that its negative correlation to stocks and other risk assets increases as these assets sell off (Chart 29, p16 in the full report). The 2008-2009 financial crisis is a case in point. Stocks and other risk assets tumbled in value, as did hedge funds, real estate and most commodities, all of which were long deemed portfolio diversifiers. Gold, by contrast, held its own and increased in price, rising 24% in euros from December 2008 to December 2009.17 

      This robust performance is perhaps not surprising. 

      Gold has consistently benefited from “flight-to-quality” inflows during periods of heightened risk. It is particularly effective during times of systemic risk, delivering positive returns and reducing overall portfolio losses (Chart 28, p16 in the full report) Importantly too, gold allows investors to meet liabilities when less liquid assets in their portfolio are difficult to sell, undervalued and possibly mispriced.

      But gold’s correlation does not just work for investors during periods of turmoil. It can also deliver a positive correlation with stocks and other risk assets in positive markets.

      This dual benefit arises from gold’s dual nature: as an investment and a luxury good. As such, the long-term price of gold is supported by income growth. Our analysis bears this out, showing that when stocks rally strongly, their correlation to gold can increase (Chart 6), likely driven by a wealth effect supporting gold consumer demand as well as demand from investors seeking protection against higher inflation expectations.

       

      Chart 6: Gold’s correlation with stocks helps portfolio diversification in good and bad economic times

      Chart 6: Gold’s correlation with stocks helps portfolio diversification in good and bad economic times

      Correlation between gold and European stock returns in various environments of stocks’ performance*

      Sources: Bloomberg, ICE Benchmark Administration, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      * As of 31 December 2019. Correlations computed using weekly returns in euros based on the Bloomberg Commodity Index and the LBMA Gold Price PM since January 1999. 
      The middle bar corresponds to the unconditional correlation over the full period. The bottom bar corresponds to the correlation conditional on Euro Stoxx 50 weekly return falling by more than two standard deviations (or ‘σ’) respectively, while the top bar corresponds to the Euro Stoxx 50 weekly return increasing by more than two standard deviations. The standard deviation is based on the same weekly returns over the full period.

       

      3. A deep and liquid market

      The gold market is large, global and highly liquid. 

      We estimate that physical gold holdings by investors and central banks are worth approximately €3.2tn with an additional €620bn in open interest through derivatives traded on exchanges or the over-the-counter market.18

      The gold market is also more liquid than several major financial markets, including German Bunds and European stock markets, while trading volumes are similar to the US short-dated Treasuries (Chart 7). Gold’s trading volumes averaged €136bn per day in 2019. During that period, over-the-counter spot and derivatives contracts accounted for €72bn and gold futures traded €60bn per day across various global exchanges. Gold-backed ETFs offer an additional source of liquidity, with the largest US-listed funds trading an average of €1.8bn per day.

      The scale and depth of the market mean that it can comfortably accommodate large, buy-and-hold institutional investors. In stark contrast to many financial markets, gold’s liquidity does not dry up, even at times of acute financial stress. 

       

      Chart 7: Gold trades more than many other major financial assets

      Chart 7: Gold trades more than many other major financial assets

      Average daily trading volumes in euros*

      Sources: Bloomberg, Bank for International Settlements, UK Debt Management Office (DMO), Germany Finance Agency, Japan Securities Dealers Association, London Bullion Market Association, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      * Based on estimated one-year average trading volumes in euros as of 31 December 2019, except for currencies that correspond to March 2019 volumes due to data availability.
      **Gold liquidity includes estimates on over-the-counter (OTC) 
      transactions and published statistics on futures exchanges, and gold-backed exchange-traded products. For methodology details visit the liquidity section at Goldhub.com

       

      4. Enhanced portfolio performance

      Long-term returns, liquidity and effective diversification all benefit overall portfolio performance. In combination, they suggest that a portfolio’s risk-adjusted returns can be materially enhanced through the addition of gold. 

      Our analysis of investment performance over the past five, 10 and 20 years underlines gold’s positive impact on a European investment portfolio. It shows that an average hypothetical fund portfolio would have achieved higher risk-adjusted returns if between 5% and 15% of the portfolio had been allocated to gold. (Chart 8 and Table 1). The positive impact has been particularly marked since the global financial crisis.

      Beyond historical backtesting, a  more robust optimisation analysis shows that euro based investors can benefit from a material improvement in performance if they allocate between 3% and 11% of a well-diversified portfolio to gold (Chart 9, p8).19

      The amount of gold varies according to individual asset allocation decisions. Broadly speaking however, the higher the risk in the portfolio – whether in terms of volatility, illiquidity or concentration of assets – the larger the required allocation to gold, within the range in consideration, to offset that risk (Chart 9, p8).

      Our analysis indicates that gold’s optimal weight in hypothetical portfolios is statistically significant even if investors assume a more conservative annual return for gold between 4% and 5% - well-below its actual long-term historical performance.

      This works equally for investors who already hold other inflation-hedging assets, such as inflation-linked bonds,20 and for investors who hold alternative assets, such as real estate, private equity and hedge funds.21

       

      Chart 8: Adding gold over the past decade would have increased risk-adjusted returns of a hypothetical average investor portfolio

      Chart 8: Adding gold would have increased risk-adjusted returns of a hypothetical average investor portfolio

      Performance of a hypothetical average investor fund portfolio with and without gold*

      Sources: Bloomberg, ICE Benchmark Administration, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      *Based on performance in euros between 31 December 1999 and 31 December 2019. The composition of the hypothetical average European investment portfolio is based on Willis Tower Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2020, OECD Global Pension Statistics, and the Mercer 2019 European Asset Allocation Survey. It includes quarterly-rebalanced total returns of a 35% allocation to stocks (16% MSCI Europe, 14% MSCI World ex Europe, 5% MSCI Emerging Markets) 50% allocation to fixed income (32% Bloomberg Barclays Pan-Euro Agg Index, 13% Bloomberg Barclay US Agg Index, 2% Bloomberg Barclays EM Agg, 3% Barclays EUR Cash Index) 15% alternative assets (8% HFRI Hedge Fund Index, 3% FTSE EPRA Nareit Developed Europe Index, 3% LPX Europe Listed Private Equity Index, 1% Bloomberg Commodity Index). The allocation to gold comes from proportionally reducing all assets. Risk-adjusted returns are calculated as the annualised return/annualised volatility. See important disclaimers and disclosures at the end of this report.

       

      Table 1: Gold increases risk-adjusted returns by reducing portfolio volatility and drawdowns across various time horizons

      Comparison of an average hypothetical investor portfolio and an equivalent portfolio with 5% gold over the past one, five, ten and twenty years*

        20-year 10-year 5-year 1-year
        No gold 5% gold No gold 5% gold No gold 5% gold No gold 5% gold
      Annualised return 6.4% 5.2% 7.1% 7.1% 5.6% 5.8% 15.9% 16.4%
      Annualised volatility 10.0% 6.3% 5.3% 5.3% 6.1% 5.9% 4.5% 4.3%
      Risk-adjusted returns 62.8 83.4 133.3 133.4 91.9 97.9 349.0 377.4
      Maximum drawdown -24.2% -39.8% -6.9% -7.2% -6.9% -7.2% -1.4% -1.1%

      * As of 31 December 2019. The average hypothetical portfolio is based on Willis Tower Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2020, OECD Global Pension Statistics, and the Mercer 2019 European Asset Allocation Survey and as described in Chart 8. See important disclaimers and disclosures at the end of this report.

      Source: Bloomberg, ICE Benchmark Administration, World Gold Council

       

      Chart 9: Gold can significantly improve risk-adjusted returns of hypothetical portfolios across various levels of risk

      Chart 9a: Gold can significantly improve risk-adjusted returns of hypothetical portfolios across various levels of risk

      (a) Long-run optimal allocations based on asset mix*

      Sources: World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      * Based on performance in euros between 31 December 1999 and 31 December 2019. The composition of the hypothetical average European investment portfolio is based on Willis Tower Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2020, OECD Global Pension Statistics, and the Mercer 2019 European Asset Allocation Survey. It includes quarterly-rebalanced total returns of a 35% allocation to stocks (16% MSCI Europe, 14% MSCI World ex Europe, 5% MSCI Emerging Markets) 50% allocation to fixed income (32% Bloomberg Barclays Pan-Euro Agg Index, 13% Bloomberg Barclay US Agg Index, 2% Bloomberg Barclays EM Agg, 3% Barclays EUR Cash Index) 15% alternative assets (8% HFRI Hedge Fund Index, 3% FTSE EPRA Nareit Developed Europe Index, 3% LPX Europe Listed Private Equity Index, 1% Bloomberg Commodity Index). The allocation to gold comes from proportionally reducing all assets. Risk-adjusted returns are calculated as the annualised return/annualised volatility. See important disclaimers and disclosures at the end of this report. 
      Analysis based on New Frontier Advisors Resampled Efficiency. For more information see Efficient Asset Management: A Practical Guide to Stock Portfolio Optimization and Asset Allocation, Oxford University Press, January 2008. 

       

      Chart 9b: Gold can significantly improve risk-adjusted returns of hypothetical portfolios across various levels of risk

      (b) Range of gold allocations and the allocation that delivers the maximum risk-adjusted return for each hypothetical portfolio mix*

      Sources: World Gold Council; Disclaimer

      * Based on performance in euros between 31 December 1999 and 31 December 2019. The composition of the hypothetical average European investment portfolio is based on Willis Tower Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2020, OECD Global Pension Statistics, and the Mercer 2019 European Asset Allocation Survey. It includes quarterly-rebalanced total returns of a 35% allocation to stocks (16% MSCI Europe, 14% MSCI World ex Europe, 5% MSCI Emerging Markets) 50% allocation to fixed income (32% Bloomberg Barclays Pan-Euro Agg Index, 13% Bloomberg Barclay US Agg Index, 2% Bloomberg Barclays EM Agg, 3% Barclays EUR Cash Index) 15% alternative assets (8% HFRI Hedge Fund Index, 3% FTSE EPRA Nareit Developed Europe Index, 3% LPX Europe Listed Private Equity Index, 1% Bloomberg Commodity Index). The allocation to gold comes from proportionally reducing all assets. Risk-adjusted returns are calculated as the annualised return/annualised volatility. See important disclaimers and disclosures at the end of this report. 

      Analysis based on New Frontier Advisors Resampled Efficiency. For more information see Efficient Asset Management: A Practical Guide to Stock Portfolio Optimization and Asset Allocation, Oxford University Press, January 2008. 

       

      Conclusion

      Perceptions of gold have changed substantially over the past two decades, reflecting increased wealth in the East and a growing appreciation of gold’s role within an institutional investment portfolio worldwide. 

      Gold’s unique attributes as a scarce, highly liquid and un-correlated asset highlight that it can act as a genuine diversifier over the long term. 

      Its position as an investment and a luxury good has allowed it to deliver average returns of nearly 12% over nearly the past 50 years, comparable to stocks and more than bonds and commodities.

      Gold’s traditional role as a safe-haven asset means it comes into its own during times of high risk. But gold’s dual appeal as an investment and a consumer good means it can generate positive returns in good times too.

      This dynamic is likely to continue, reflecting ongoing political and economic uncertainty, persistently low interest rates and economic concerns surrounding stock and bond markets (see Gold Mid-year Outlook 2020).

      Overall, extensive analysis suggests that adding between 3% and 11% of gold to a European portfolio will make a tangible improvement to performance and boost risk-adjusted returns on a sustainable, long-term basis. 

      Footnotes

      1See 2020 Gold Outlook, January 2020.

      2See Chart 8 on page 7 for more details behind the composition of the hypothetical average European investor portfolio. In addition, refer to important disclaimers and disclosures at the end of this report.

      3World Trade Statistical Review 2019, World Trade Organisation

      4Mercer European Asset Allocation Insights 2020

      5See Gold and climate change: Current and future impacts, October 2019

      6See the demand and supply section at Goldhub.com

      7Willis Towers Watson, Global Pension Assets Study 2020 and Global Alternatives Survey 2017, July 2017.

      8As of 31 December 2019

      9As of 30 September 2020

      10The performance is a blend of the pre-1999 euro performance of the German Mark and the post-release of the euro itself.

      11During the gold standard, the US dollar was backed by gold and the foreign currency exchange rates were dictated by the Bretton Woods System: https://www.imf.org/external/about/histend.htm.

      12For other return metrics and y-o-y performance see Appendix in the full report.

      13See Chart 14 on page 12 in the full report.

      14Oxford Economics, The impact of inflation and deflation on the case for gold, July 2011.

      15See the demand and supply section at Goldhub.com.

      16QaurumSM is a web-based quantitative tool that helps investors intuitively understand the drivers of gold’s performance that can be explained by four broad sets of drivers.

      17Based on the LBMA PM gold price fix from 1 December 2008 to 30 November 2009.

      18See Chart 13 and Figure 1 in Appendix in the full report as well as the holders and trends section at Goldhub.com.

      19Analysis based on the re-sampled efficiency methodology developed by Richard and Robert Michaud and praised as a robust alternative to traditional mean-variance optimisation. See Efficient Asset Management: A Practical Guide to Stock Portfolio Optimization and Asset Allocation, Oxford University Press, January 2008.

      20Gold as a tactical inflation hedge and long-term strategic asset, July 2009.

      21How gold improves alternative asset performance, Gold Investor, Volume 6, June 2014.

      22See: Gold: the most effective commodity investment, September 2019, and Gold: metal by design, currency by nature, Gold Investor, Volume 6, June 2014.

      23Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2019

      24Based on the LBMA Gold Price PM performance in euros and Swiss francs between 31 December 2009 and 31 December 2019.

      25See Chart 9, p9

      Important disclaimers and disclosures

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      Neither the World Gold Council nor any of its affiliates (collectively, “WGC”) guarantees the accuracy or completeness of any information. WGC does not accept responsibility for any losses or damages arising directly or indirectly from the use of this information.

      This information is for educational purposes only. Nothing contained herein is intended to constitute a recommendation, investment advice, or offer for the purchase or sale of gold, any gold-related products or services or any other products, services, securities or financial instruments (collectively, “Services”). This information does not take into account any investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any particular person.    

      By receiving this information, you agree with the intended purpose of this information as being for educational purposes only.  Diversification does not guarantee any investment returns and does not eliminate the risk of loss.    

      Investors should discuss their individual circumstances with their appropriate investment professionals before making any decision regarding any Services or investments.

      This information contains forward-looking statements, such as statements which use the words “believes”, “expects”, “may”, or “suggests”, or similar terminology, which are based on current expectations and are subject to change. Forward-looking statements involve a number of risks and uncertainties. There can be no assurance that any forward-looking statements will be achieved. WGC assumes no responsibility for updating any forward-looking statements.

      Information regarding QaurumSM and the Gold Valuation Framework 

      Note that the resulting performance of various investment outcomes that can generated through use of Qaurum, the Gold Valuation Framework and other information are hypothetical in nature, may not reflect actual investment results and are not guarantees of future results. Diversification does not guarantee investment returns and does not eliminate the risk of loss.  World Gold Council and its affiliates and subsidiaries (collectively, “WGC”) provide no warranty or guarantee regarding the functionality of the tool, including without limitation any projections, estimates or calculations.

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