By Imaru Casanova, Portfolio Strategist, Gold and Precious Metals
Spot gold climbs to a record high in 2023; the main drivers behind last year’s gold rally should continue to support gold in 2024.
Monthly gold market and economic insights from Imaru Casanova, Portfolio Manager, featuring her unique views on mining and gold’s portfolio benefits. An expanded PDF version of this commentary, including fund specific information can be downloaded here.
Look who’s made new all-time highs…
Some market participants look at closing prices, others prefer to look at intraday prices for more detailed price action. No matter how you slice it, spot gold prices set new highs in 2023. Gold recorded a new intraday, all-time high of $2,135/oz in early December during overseas trading hours. Gold also managed to establish a new at-the-close all-time high of $2,077/oz on December 27, and ended 2023 at $2,063/oz, up 13.1% for the year.
Gold equities ended the year strong as well, outperforming gold bullion in the last two months of the year. However, gold equity has yet to fully close the valuation gap against the metal. In 2023, NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index (GDMNTR)1 and MVIS Global Juniors Gold Miners Index (MVGDXJTR)2 were up 10.60% and 8.59%, respectively, compared to gold’s 13.10% gain.
Recapping key drivers
The main drivers behind gold’s rally to new all-time highs were:
- Heightened global financial risk – gold closed at a yearly low of $1,811/oz at the end of February, bouncing back and trending above $2,000/oz as markets tried to digest the news and assess the ripple effects of the rapid collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank over the course of a weekend in March. Gold found further support as the risks spread to Europe, with major bank Credit Suisse ultimately needing a rescue.
- Record central bank net gold purchases – investment demand, as gauged by the holdings of gold bullion ETFs, persistently declined in the second half of the year. However, this was offset by strong buying from the official sector, with gold purchases from central banks around the world potentially set to beat the record levels reported for 2022. This kept gold well supported above the $1,900/oz level throughout most of the year, leading to highest annual average gold price in record of $1,943/oz in 2023.
- Heightened geopolitical risk globally – most notably, as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the tragic developments in the Middle East in early October. Gold closed at $1,820/oz on October 5, and demonstrated, once again, its historically proven role as a safe haven, climbing above $2,000/oz after Hamas’ attacks on Israel.
- Federal reserve policy – changing expectations around the U.S. Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) monetary policy path were a major driver of gold prices in 2023. The Fed’s projections for rate cuts in 2024, released at the conclusion of their December 13 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, sent gold prices to record levels at year end.
Gold seems to have established strong support at around the $1,900 to $2,000/oz level, and at present, we see real opportunity for it to test new all-time highs this year. The four main drivers highlighted above should continue to support gold in 2024. More significantly, increasing western investment demand as a result of a rising need to hedge portfolios this year could once again become a dominant and positive driver of gold prices.
Slowing outflows in gold-backed ETFs
Source: World Gold Council. Data as of December 2023.
Making a case for miners
It is important that investors consider not just gold bullion but also gold equities when they look at gold as an asset class. We think gold miners are favorably positioned to benefit from sustained, record-high gold prices as investors seek leveraged, diversified exposure to gold. Gold prices will clearly continue to have a meaningful impact on the performance of the gold equities, with a rising gold price environment providing opportunity for gold equities to outperform the metal.
A declining gold price, in contrast, would typically lead to weak share price performance by the miners relative to gold. We view gold equities, at present, as generally undervalued, trading at low multiples both historically for the industry and relative to gold. We believe this valuation gap provides an opportunity for gold equities to outperform gold even in a sideways gold price environment, especially if that price action develops around the $2,000/oz level.
Industry cost inflation has mostly subsided, and operating costs appear to be contained, with all-in sustaining costs on average at around $1,300/oz. While we reiterate our outlook for higher gold prices in 2024, we want to highlight that at current spot gold prices of around $2,040/oz, gold miners, as a group, should be able to enjoy margin expansion and enhanced free cash flow generation this year.
We expect gold companies to have the ability to produce solid operating and financial results that can withstand the volatility of the gold price and demonstrate that they can sustainably operate profitable businesses throughout the cycles. We believe consistently proving this resilience to the markets should lead to increased incorporation of gold equities as an asset class in the broader investment universe, and lead to a rerating of the gold mining sector.
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Originally published 11 January 2024.
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