Gold prices near bottom in 2014, nurses biggest loss in 32 years

Written by Reuters | London | Updated: Jan 22 2014, 14:03pm hrs
Gold pricesPrices set to stagnate well into 2015 after 28 pct price plunge. Reuters
Gold in 2014 will not push much lower from current levels around $1,250, although investors hoping last year's 28 percent battering will bring a bounce back face disappointment, consensus estimates in a Reuters poll show.

Gold last year hit its lowest since August 2010 at $1,180.71 an ounce. That blew away expectations of analysts polled this time last year, who had forecast a modest 6 percent rise from 2012's average.

A Reuters poll of 37 analysts conducted in the last month returned an average gold price forecast of $1,235 an ounce for this year, while in 2015 prices are seen rising only marginally, to $1,260 an ounce.

While that suggests heavy selling of the metal may have ended, it offers little comfort to investors looking for gains after last year's crash, its biggest annual loss in 32 years.

Opinion is split on gold's next direction, but with the spread of forecasts only half its usual size, analysts appear to have reached consensus on at least one point -- the metal will not repeat the big gains or losses of the last five years.

David Hemming, commodities portfolio manager for Hermes, summed up the difficulty of looking at gold.

"One day it's a safe haven, the next it's a currency, the next it's a physical commodity."

An improving macro economic backdrop accompanied by surging equity markets and forecasts for a strong dollar were seen as bearish influences.

"We have come down a lot, almost 30 percent in one year, so I think the consensus is that we're in the process of bottoming out," Societe Generale analyst Robin Bhar said. "We may try to work a bit higher as lower prices attract both jewellery demand and renewed investment demand.

"But macro influences are going to become much more negative for gold -- a strengthening global economy, rising bond yields, and the dollar also will provide headwinds -- and there is ongoing investor disillusionment."

Expectations that the Federal Reserve was set to taper its quantitative easing programme -- a key driver of higher prices over the last five years -- largely drove 2013's losses, while rallying stock markets diverted investment from gold.

Ultra-loose monetary policy had been a major factor driving gold prices to record highs in 2011, as it kept up pressure on interest rates, cutting the opportunity cost of holding gold, while burnishing its appeal as an inflation hedge.


Investors sold heavily out of gold-backed exchange-traded funds last year, easily offsetting a rise in demand for bars and coins in Asian gold markets, chiefly China, and a recovery in the jewellery market.

Lower prices are likely to support appetite for physical metal from the biggest consumers, China and India, this year, though Chinese demand growth will struggle to match 2013's surge.

"Chinese demand could be as strong next year as this year, but is unlikely to be stronger," BMO Capital Markets analyst Jessica Fung said. "Gold prices would have to drop by another 15 percent or so to see significant opportunistic buying again in China, but we also expect the CNY (yuan) to strengthen, which makes gold more expensive in local terms."

Indian buying will remain constrained as long as the Indian government maintains the policies it put in place last year to cut imports, which had been a major factor pushing the country's current account deficit to a record level.

Silver prices are also expected to remain near current levels this year, with a median forecast returned in the poll of $19.95 an ounce, just a few cents from their current level.

The metal also plunged last year, by 36 percent, hitting a near three-year low of $18.19 an ounce in June. Silver prices have dropped despite ETF holdings remaining resilient, failing to gain much benefit from its exposure to industrial metals.

"One of our key concerns surrounding the outlook for silver is the bloated above ground stocks, which have been exacerbated by annual surpluses since 2009," Barclays Capital said.

"Given our projections for continued mine supply growth in 2014 and 2015, prices are unlikely to register sustained gains."

In 2015, silver prices are forecast to edge back up to $21.00 an ounce, in line with a slight uptick in gold.