· A more hawkish Fed meeting pushed precious metal prices lower
· …and today and tomorrow Fed’s speakers are in focus
· A profound shift in investor sentiment underway?
At the mercy of Fed expectations
In our precious metals weekly of last week, we focussed on the interrelated driving forces for gold prices such as the direction in the US dollar and expectations about monetary policy. The Fed was once again a key driver of precious metals last week. The FOMC statement was more hawkish. It left the door open for a rate hike at the December meeting. This unexpected hawkish communication sent precious metal prices lower and the US dollar higher. The upward price momentum in precious metal prices had already eased and this outcome of the Fed meeting made things worse for precious metal prices. Since 28 October 2015, they have lost between 1.7 to 4.5% with silver prices being the weakest performer.
Today Fed Chair Yellen (at 16.00 CET) and Fed’s Dudley (at 20.30) will speak and more Fed speakers are scheduled for tomorrow. If they also signal that a rate hike at the December meeting is on the cards then precious metal prices will fall further. This is because a rate hike at the December meeting is priced in for about 50% (see graph above). If they moderate the tone, signalling that a rate hike this year is not so likely, precious metal prices could bounce higher again. Their comments will have an extra impact, because the US dollar is also directly affected. Our call remains that they will postpone the rate hike to next year, but the risk for a hike this year has increased. In addition, the release of the US employment report could also move precious metal prices. A stronger report should send precious metal prices lower.
Sentiment shift going on
Often investor sentiment among speculators directly impact prices. They are usually the first investors to throw in the towel if they don’t expect positive price developments anymore. Investors that are in exchange traded products often have more patience because they seem to have a longer-term investment horizon. There are signs that a profound shift is going on. Positions in ETF have always been very sticky, but if investors start to unwind them, a significant downward move in prices will be the result. We mentioned in earlier reports that total ETF positions in platinum, palladium and silver have been at an excessive level for a long time. However, recently they have come down sharply in platinum and in palladium. It is likely that the emission scandal had a substantial impact but also the prospect that the Fed may hike rates this year probably triggered position unwinding. Total ETF positions in silver have also been reduced, albeit to a lesser extent.
The trend in total ETF positions does not bode well for the short-term price outlook. Last time we experienced such a development was in 2013 when total ETF positions in gold were reduced by 33%. This was at a time that speculative positions were also cut back. For platinum and palladium most of these speculative positions have already been reduced, but speculators could become more negative on the price outlook. So it is likely that a profound shift in investor sentiment could send precious metal prices much lower from the current levels. If total ETF positions in platinum, palladium and silver were to be reduced by 33% from the maximum positions, then prices could test the lows set this year in platinum (902 USD per ounce), palladium (530 USD per ounce) and silver (14.12 USD per ounce).