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Gold ETFs Hit Seven-Year High and It’s Not Just the Virus

Ranjeetha Pakiam
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Gold ETFs Hit Seven-Year High and It’s Not Just the Virus

(Bloomberg) -- The global stash of gold in exchange-traded funds hit the highest level in seven years as the impact of the novel coronavirus on markets and sentiment reinforced demand for havens at a time of low interest rates, and the addition of just a few more tons would lift the total to a record.

The latest influx into bullion-backed ETFs follows four straight years of inflows, and comes as prices trade near the highest since 2013. The number of confirmed virus cases in China has soared to overtake the official number of infections during the SARS epidemic, and at least 132 people have died.

Gold has risen this year as the outbreak of the deadly virus threatens to harm the world economy, prompting volatile equity trading amid swings in investing sentiment. The traditional haven has also been in favor as the Federal Reserve has signaled interest rates are likely to remain low for some time, while it boosts its balance sheet to relieve strain in money markets. Right now, real U.S. rates are negative, which cuts the opportunity cost of holding bullion.

“Even if the coronavirus situation improves, there are good reasons to expect continued inflows into gold,” said Nicholas Frappell, global general manager at Sydney-based ABC Bullion. Other factors remain, including the Fed’s growing balance sheet, low real rates, and a reluctance to “normalize” policy at the Fed, the Bank of Japan and European Central Bank, he said.

Worldwide gold holdings in ETFs rose to 2,561.2 tons as of Tuesday, the highest level since January 2013, according to data complied by Bloomberg. They peaked at 2,572.8 tons in December 2012.

“If the virus were to be contained, then we might see some pullback in ETF holdings, but certainly no collapse,” said John Sharma, an economist at National Australia Bank Ltd. Low rates, geopolitical issues and possible trade tensions will persist, supporting demand for gold, he said in an email.

Fed policy makers are set to hand down their latest decision on policy later Wednesday after the first meeting of 2020. While it is all but certain rates will be kept steady, Chairman Jerome Powell will likely face questions about asset purchases, as well as the potential fallout from the deadly virus.

The spot price was at $1,569.31 an ounce on Wednesday, up 3.4% in January, after an 18% jump last year that was the biggest annual gain since 2010.

(Updates spot price in the final paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ranjeetha Pakiam in Singapore at rpakiam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Phoebe Sedgman at psedgman2@bloomberg.net, Jake Lloyd-Smith

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