The Effect of Fed Funds Rate Hikes on Gold

Many investors and market analysts believe that, since rising interest rates make bonds and other fixed-income investments more attractive, money will flow into higher-yielding investments (such as bonds and money market funds) and out of gold when rates move higher. Therefore, when the Federal Reserve raises its benchmark federal funds rate, weakness in gold should follow.

However, there’s little evidence that gold is consistently weakened by federal funds rate hikes or Treasury yields. Despite some negative correlation in the 2000s, there are far too many instances of gold and interest rates rising together to say that high interest rates cause gold prices to fall.

Ultimately, the relationship between gold prices and interest rates is uncertain and unstable because gold is traded on a global market subject to forces far beyond the reach of the Federal Reserve.

Key Takeaways

  • Some market watchers believe that higher interest rates send gold lower because of increased competition from higher-yielding investments.
  • However, a long-term look through historical data reveals that no relationship exists between rates and gold.
  • Throughout much of the 1970s, gold prices rose sharply, just as interest rates moved higher.
  • The 1980s saw declining interest rates and a bear market in gold.
  • Other factors beyond rates—such as the supply and demand dynamics seen in most commodities markets—are likely to have a greater impact on the long-term performance of gold.

Historical Look at Gold Prices and Interest Rates

Even though the widespread popular belief is that a strong negative correlation exists between interest rates and the price of gold, a long-term review of the respective paths and trends of interest rates and gold prices reveals that no such relationship exists. The correlation between interest rates and the price of gold over the past half-century, since 1970, has only been about 28% and is not considered significant.

A study of the massive bull market in gold that occurred during the 1970s reveals that gold’s run-up to its all-time high price of the 20th century happened right when interest rates were high and rapidly rising. Short-term interest rates, as reflected by one-year Treasury bills (T-bills), bottomed out at 3.5% in 1971. By 1981, that same interest rate had more than quadrupled, rising as high as 16%. In that same period, the price of gold mushroomed from less than $50 an ounce to a previously unimaginable price of nearly $850 an ounce. Gold prices had a strong positive correlation with interest rates, rising in concert with them.

The Fed began its latest rate-hiking cycle in March 2022, just after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had threatened global stability and sent gold prices soaring. As the Fed committed itself to a sustained program of rate increases to bring down inflation, gold prices did in fact tumble. From highs near $2,000 per ounce in March, gold prices entered a volatile downtrend for much of 2022 until hitting a triple bottom around $1,630 over the fall months. While the historical correlation remains questionable, it is likely that investors being lured by higher rates on fixed-income investments contributed to the decline in gold prices over 2022.

Moving into 2023, gold prices began to recover, reaching the level of $1,900 per ounce in mid-January alongside signs of moderating inflation and expectations for a slowdown in Fed rate hikes. Investors may be returning to gold partly in response to the prospect of lower interest rates. However, it is important to remember that monetary policy is just one of many factors that influence gold price movements.

What Drives Gold Prices?

The price of gold is ultimately not a function of interest rates. Like most basic commodities, it is a function of supply and demand in the long run. While surges in supply can cause the price of gold to plummet, demand is ultimately the stronger component between the two. The level of gold supply only changes slowly, since it takes 10 years or more for a discovered gold deposit to be converted into a producing mine. Rising and higher interest rates may be bullish for gold prices, simply because they are typically bearish for stocks.

It is the stock market rather than the gold market that typically suffers the largest outflow of investment capital when rising interest rates make fixed-income investments more attractive. Rising interest rates nearly always lead investors to rebalance their investment portfolios more in favor of bonds and less in favor of stocks.

Higher bond yields also tend to make investors less willing to buy into stocks that may have high multiples or valuations. Higher interest rates mean increased financing expenses for companies, an expense that usually has a direct negative impact on net profit margins. That fact only makes it more likely that rising rates will result in lower stock prices.

The U.S. dollar is viewed by some investors as an important driver for gold prices because the metal is dollar-denominated. When the greenback falls, consumers can buy more gold with the same amount of their currency, which results in increased buying interest (demand) and higher gold prices.

When stock indexes reach new highs, they are susceptible to downside corrections. Whenever the stock market declines significantly, one of the first alternative investments that investors consider transferring money into is gold. For example, gold prices increased by more than 60% during 1973 and 1974, at a time when interest rates were rising, and the S&P 500 Index dropped by more than 20%.

How do interest rate hikes affect gold prices?

There is a popular belief that gold prices have an inverse relationship with increasing interest rates. The idea is that, since higher interest rates make fixed-income investments like bonds more attractive, money will flow out of gold and into high-yielding investments as rates rise. However, historical data shows no significant correlation between rising interest rates and falling gold prices. While monetary policy may influence gold markets, there are many other factors that affect the direction of precious-metals prices.

What determines gold prices?

Gold prices ultimately depend on supply and demand. Since gold production is a lengthy process, markets have some visibility into the supply side of the gold market, but demand can fluctuate wildly. For instance, economic or political turmoil can send investors flocking to the perceived safety of gold. Central banks purchasing gold reserves, demand for jewelry, and concerns about inflation can also have an impact on gold markets.

Does a weaker dollar benefit gold?

Many investors believe that the value of the dollar has a significant impact on gold prices. This is because gold is denominated in dollars. In theory, when the dollar is weaker, buyers using other currencies can buy more gold, making the metal more attractive and pulling gold prices higher. Conversely, a stronger dollar makes gold more expensive for these buyers and puts downward pressure on gold prices.

The Bottom Line

Given the historical tendencies of the actual reactions of stock market prices and gold prices to interest rate increases, the likelihood is greater that stock prices will be negatively impacted by rising interest rates and that gold may benefit as an alternative investment to equities.

So, while rising interest rates may increase the U.S. dollar, pushing gold prices lower (because gold is denominated in U.S. dollars), factors such as equity prices and volatility coupled with general supply and demand are the real drivers of the price of gold.

Article Sources
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  2. U.S. Geological Survey Publications Warehouse. “Metal Prices in the United States Through 2010,” Pages 58–61 (Pages 64–67).

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  6. CNBC. “Federal Reserve Approves First Interest Rate Hike in More than Three Years, Sees Six More Ahead.”

  7. Reuters. “Gold Rises Over 1% on Slower Fed Rate-Hike Prospects.”

  8. World Gold Council. “How Gold Is Mined: The Lifecycle of a Gold Mine.”

  9. Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions and Money, via ScienceDirect. “Gold as a Hedge Against the Dollar.”

  10. Macrotrends. “S&P 500 Index—90 Year Historical Chart.”

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