Russia edition

The case for gold in Russia

Russia has long had a close connection with gold, although one that has varied over many generations.
For example, the Gokhran of Russia (The State Repository of Precious Metals and Gemstones of the Russian Federation), now part of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation, can trace its origins back to 1719, when Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia, established the country’s first State Treasury. More recently, Russia has emerged as a major gold mining nation, while its central bank has built very substantial gold reserves of approximately 2,300 tonnes (t), representing over 20% of the total value of the country’s reserve assets.

In the wake of the pandemic

Gold is not only a useful long-term strategic component for portfolios, but one that is increasingly relevant in the current environment (see 2020 Gold Outlook)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on Russia’s economy, exacerbated by a sharp fall in oil prices and heightened global risk aversion in capital markets, resulting in reduced fiscal revenues and a weakened ruble. But fiscal and monetary packages have softened the economic blow and the currency valuation. If uncertainty diminishes, household consumption could lead to further recovery. However, the ruble is likely to remain volatile, often amplified by geopolitical risks and this will remain a major concern for many domestic investors.

Developing private financial literacy and expanding investment capacity

Russia’s national development goals2 have targeted greater financial literacy among the country’s population, encouraging greater participation in a developing investment market to bolster savings and private pension provisions. This is still a relatively underdeveloped market, with investors often concerned with the limited choices and return opportunities available to them. We believe that gold, already understood by many Russians to be a safe store of value and a risk mitigation asset, can support these efforts gold is made more accessible via a broader range of trusted products and platforms.

The role of gold

Consumers in Russia have long recognised the benefits of gold as an asset and savings vehicle and this remains true today (see Focus 1). This suggests there are major opportunities in opening the gold market to satisfy nascent domestic private investor demand. However, institutional investors may also benefit from allocating a proportion of their holdings to gold, given its proven ability to contribute to optimal portfolio performance and the expanding list of challenges around asset management and portfolio construction.3 In both instances, market development may require regulatory changes and the introduction of a wider range of gold-backed investment products, but there is already strong momentum behind the potential expansion of the Russian gold market, with potential benefits for a wide range of investors.

Untapped gold demand in Russia

The investment market for gold in Russia has remained relatively undeveloped for many years, in contrast to the relatively rapid demand growth witnessed in China and Europe, where demand for gold bars and coins has multiplied more than tenfold in both markets over the last 15 years.

These findings are reinforced by World Gold Council’s consumer research, which also indicates that gold is held in high regard, particularly as a safe haven asset and a reliable store of value.

Russia is considering the abolition of VAT on gold and this is expected to be implemented soon. Recent legislation aimed at tracking gold transactions across the country will help to avoid VAT abuse and increase transparency, while precious metals’ standards and trading practices are being harmonised across local borders. The abolition of VAT will help revitalise the market and unblock the tide in gold investment in Russia.

The experience of other countries – such as China or the EU – shows that removal of VAT has led to a significant increase in gold demand. Market growth may not happen overnight but, when there is a sufficient incentive for investors to return to gold, it can happen quickly and at scale. Since 2010, European private investors have bought over 2,260t of gold bars and coins, currently5 valued at over US$128bn (8.9 trn RUB). The revised tax treatment of gold in Russia, coupled with a supportive infrastructure, might allow its gold investment market to flourish in a similar fashion.

     

    Chart 1: Russian citizens’ investment preferences

    The increased relevance of gold

    Institutional investors around the globe 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 20196 (Chart 2).

    Gold allocations have been recipients of this shift. It is increasingly recognised as a mainstream investment, evidenced by global investment demand, which has grown by an average of 14% per year since 2001; the gold price has increased by almost four-fold over the same period.7 

    The principal factors behind this growth include: 

    • Emerging market growth: economic expansion – particularly in China and India – has increased and diversified gold’s consumer and investor base (Chart 15, p14 and Chart 26, p17 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 (Chart 16, p14 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 18, p14 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 27 p17 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 25 and Table 2, p16 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 17, p14 in the full report).
     

    Chart 2: Investors continue to add alternative investments, including gold, to their portfolios

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

    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.

     

    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 since the end of the Cold War, the price of gold, measured in rubles, has increased by an average of 30% per year since 1993. In US dollar terms, the price of gold has increased 10% on average annually since 1971 when the gold standard collapsed.8 Over this period, gold’s long-term return was comparable to stocks and higher than bonds.9 Gold has also outperformed other major asset classes over the past two decades (Chart 4, Chart 19 and Chart 22, p15 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 (Chart 13, p13 in the full report) These diverse sources of demand give gold a particular resilience: the potential to deliver solid returns in good times and in bad (Focus 2).

     

    Chart 3: Bank of Russia grew its gold holdings immensely over the past decade

    Chart 3: Bank of Russia grew its gold holdings immensely during the past decade

    Sources: World Gold Council; Disclaimer

    As of 30 June 2020, based on quarterly data.

     

    Chart 4: Gold has delivered positive returns over the long run, outperforming key asset classes

    Chart 4: Gold has delivered positive returns over the long run, outperforming key asset classes

    Average annual return of key global assets in rubles*

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

    * As of 31 December 2019. Computations in rubles of total return indices for Barclays EUR Cash Index, Sovereign Eurobonds, Moscow Exchange Municipal Bond Index, MOEX Russia Total Return Index, Russian Government Bond Index, MSCI World Stock Index, RTS Oil and Gas Index, and spot for LBMA Gold Price PM. For compounded annual growth rates see Appendix

     

    Beating inflation, combating deflation

    Gold is long considered a hedge against inflation and the data confirms this. The average annual return of nearly 16% since 2001 has outpaced the Russian consumer price index (CPI).11

    Gold also protects investors against extreme inflation. In years when inflation was higher than 10% gold’s price increased nearly 25% on average (Chart 5). 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.12 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 5: Gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation

    Chart 5: Gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation

    Gold returns in rubles as a function of annual inflation*

    Sources: Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

    *Based on y-o-y changes of the LBMA Gold Price and Russian CPI between 2001 and 2019.

    Source: **For each year on the sample, real return = (1+nominal return)/ (1+inflation)-1

     

    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 6). 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 years13 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.

     

    Chart 6: Gold has outperformed all major fiat currencies over time

    Chart 6: Gold has outperformed all major fiat currencies over time

    Relative value between major currencies and gold since 1900*

    Sources: Bloomberg, GFMS Thomson Reuters, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

    *As of 31 December 2019. Based on the annual average price of a currency relative to the gold price.
    **The gaps in the deutschmark/euro line reflect hyperinflation in 1922 followed by the breakdown after WWII.

    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. 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, which were long deemed portfolio diversifiers. Gold, by contrast, held its own and increased in price, rising 58% in rubles from December 2008 to December 2009.14 

    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 27, p17 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.15

    But gold’s correlation does not just work for investors during periods of turmoil. It can also deliver 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 7) llikely driven by a wealth-effect supporting gold consumer demand as well as demand from investors seeking protection against higher inflation expectations.

     

    Chart 7: Gold’s correlation with stocks helps portfolio diversification in good and bad economic times

    Chart 7: Gold’s correlation with stocks helps portfolio diversification in good and bad economic times

    Correlation between gold and Russian 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 rubles based on the Bloomberg Commodity Index and the LBMA Gold Price PM since September 1997. 

    The top bar corresponds to the correlation conditional on MOEX stocks weekly in all observations. The bottom bar corresponds to the correlation conditional on MOEX stocks weekly return falling by more than two standard deviations (or ‘σ’) respectively.

     

    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 200trn RUB with an additional 38trn RUB in open interest through derivatives traded on exchanges or the over-the-counter market.16

    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 8) Gold’s trading volumes averaged 8.4trn RUB (US$145bn) per day in 2019. During that period, over-the-counter spot and derivatives contracts accounted for 4.5trn RUB (US$78bn) and gold futures traded 3.7trn RUB (US$65bn) 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 112bn RUB (US$2bn) per day. Gold futures volume on the Moscow Exchange specifically averaged nearly 5bn RUB (US$82mn) per day in 2019.

    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 8: Gold trades more than many other major financial assets

    Chart 8: Gold trades more than many other major financial assets

    Average daily trading volumes

    * Based on estimated one-year average trading volumes in US dollars as of 31 December 2019, except for currencies that correspond to March 2019 volumes due to data availability.

    Source: **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 two, five, 10 and 15 years underlines gold’s positive impact on an institutional portfolio. It shows that an average Russian investment fund would have lower drawdowns in each of those time horizons, and higher risk-adjusted returns in all periods except the past five years if 5%, 10% or 15% of the portfolio were allocated to gold. (Chart 9 and Table 1). The positive impact has been particularly marked since the global financial crisis.

     

    Chart 9: Adding gold over the past decade would have increased risk-adjusted returns of a hypothetical average Russian portfolio

    Chart 9: Adding gold over the past decade would have increased risk-adjusted returns of a hypothetical average Russian portfolio

    Performance of a hypothetical Russian investment portfolio portfolio with and without gold*

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

    * Based on total return performance in rubles (unless noted) between 31 December 2004 and 31 December 2019. Our analysis is based on a series of established model portfolios provided by Sberbank and independent experts in Russia. The hypothetical average Russian investment portfolio in this instance is a 50/50 split of stocks and bonds. It includes quarterly-rebalanced total returns of a 50% allocation to stocks (30% MOEX Russia Stock Index, 10% MSCI USA Net Index in US dollars, 5% Deutsche Boerse German Stock Index in euros 5% MSCI Emerging Markets in yuan) 50% allocation to fixed income (25% MOEX Corporate Bond Index, 18% MOEX Municipal Bond Index, 7% Russian Sovereign Eurobonds 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.

    Looking to the future, stronger dynamics apply. Our analysis shows that ruble-based investors can benefit from a material enhancement in performance if they allocate between 4% and 13% of a well-diversified portfolio to gold (Chart 10).17

    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 10).

    Our analysis indicates that gold’s optimal weight in hypothetical portfolios is statistically significant even if investors assume an annual return for gold of between 2% and 4% - 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,18 and for investors who hold alternative assets, such as real estate, private equity and hedge funds.19

     

    Chart 10: Gold can significantly improve risk-adjusted returns of hypothetical portfolios across various levels of risk

    Chart 10: Gold can significantly improve risk-adjusted returns of hypothetical portfolios across various levels of risk

    (a) Long-run optimal allocations based on asset

    Sources: World Gold Council; Disclaimer

     

    Chart 10: 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 total return performance in rubles (unless noted) between 31 December 2004 and 31 December 2019. Our analysis is based on a series of established model portfolios provided by Sberbank and independent experts in Russia. The hypothetical average Russian investment portfolio in this instance is a 50/50 split of stocks and bonds. It includes quarterly-rebalanced total returns of a 50% allocation to stocks (30% MOEX Russia Stock Index, 10% MSCI USA Net Index in US dollars, 5% Deutsche Boerse German Stock Index in euros 5% MSCI Emerging Markets in yuan) 50% allocation to fixed income (25% MOEX Corporate Bond Index, 18% MOEX Municipal Bond Index, 7% Russian Sovereign Eurobonds 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.

     

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

    Comparison of an average Russian portfolio versus a similar portfolio with 10% gold over the past two, five, ten and fifteen years.*

      15- year 10- year 5-year 2-year
      No gold 10% gold No gold 10% gold No gold 10% gold No gold 10% gold
    Annualised return 11.4% 12.0% 11.3% 11.5% 14.9% 14.2% 14.4% 14.3%
    Annualised volatility 10.3% 9.5% 6.7% 6.2% 5.4% 5.6% 5.3% 4.6%
    Risk-adjusted returns 110.0 127.0 169.0 186.0 273.0 254.0 271.0 310.0
    Maximum drawdown -37.0% -33.0% 9.2% -6.0% -2.5% -2.1% -2.5% -1.9%

    *Based on performance in rubles between 31 December 1999 and 31 December 2019. The average portfolio is based on Willis Tower Watson Global Pension Assets Study 2019, Global Alternatives Survey 2017 and the Mercer 2019 European Asset Allocation Survey. Ibid

    Source: Bloomberg, ICE Benchmark Administration, World Gold Council

     

    Chart 11: Gold has outperformed all broad-based indices and all individual commodities

    Chart 11: Gold has outperformed all broad-based indices and all individual commodities

    20-year commodity and commodity index returns*

    Sources: Bloomberg, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

    Annualised returns in rubles from December 1999 to December 2019. Indices include: S&P GS Energy Index, S&P GS Precious Metals Index, S&P GS Industrial Metals Index, S&P GS Non-Precious Metals Index, Gold London PM fix.

     

    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. 

    Gold’s position as an investment and a luxury good has allowed it to deliver average returns of approximately. 30% since the end of the Cold War with CAGR of nearly 15% in rubles, nearly matching the performance of Russian stocks.
    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 persist, reflecting persistent political and economic uncertainty, persistently low interest rates and economic concerns surrounding stock and bond markets (see 2020 Gold Outlook).

    Overall, extensive analysis suggests that adding between 4% and 13% of gold to a Russian ruble-based portfolio will make a tangible improvement to performance and boost risk-adjusted returns on a sustainable, long-term basis.21 

    Footnotes

    1Russia Economic Report #43; Russia Recession and Growth Under the Shadow of a Pandemic, July 2020, World Bank Group

    2Executive Order [204] on National Goals and Strategic Objectives of the Russian Federation through 2024.

    3See 2020 Gold Outlook, January 2020.

    4See Chart 9 on page 8 for more details behind the composition of the hypothetical average Russian portfolio. In addition, refer to important disclaimers and disclosures at the end of this report.

    5As of 26 June 2020

    6Willis Towers Watson, Global Pension Assets Study 2018, February 2019 and Global Alternatives Survey 2017, July 2017.

    7As of 31 December 2019

    8During 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.

    9For other return metrics and y-o-y performance see Appendix in the full report.

    10QaurumSM 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.

    11The first available Russian CPI data is from 2001

    12Oxford Economics, The impact of inflation and deflation on the case for gold, July 2011.

    13See the demand and supply section at Goldhub.com.

    14Based on the LBMA PM gold price fix from 1 December 2008 to 30 November 2009.

    15See Appendix in the full report.

    16See Chart 12 and Figure 1 in Appendix in the full report as well as the holders and trends section at Goldhub.com.

    17Analysis 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.

    18Gold as a tactical inflation hedge and long-term strategic asset, July 2009.

    19How gold improves alternative asset performance, Gold Investor, Volume 6, June 2014.

    20See: Gold: the most effective commodity investment, September 2019, and Gold: metal by design, currency by nature, Gold Investor, Volume 6, June 2014.

    21See Chart 9 page 6

    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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