Beyond Bulls & Bears


Reasons We Remain Bullish on Gold

While gold is valued for a variety of reasons, the uncertainty and economic fallout tied to the COVID-19 pandemic saw investment drive the price of the yellow metal to record highs in 2020. Equities related to the sector also saw solid investor interest, but as optimism around an economic recovery has grown, gold has lost some lustre thus far in 2021. Franklin Equity Group Portfolio Manager Steve Land discusses why gold demand could rebound from a weak start to the year, and where he sees potential opportunities for equity investors.

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified) German Polish

Gold suffered its largest quarterly selloff in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 since 2016, down 10.0% (to US$1,707 per troy ounce) with prices dropping below US$1,700 for two separate days in March. A rise in the US dollar’s trade-weighted value, a rotation into riskier assets, and selling pressure after US Treasury yields jumped to their highest point in nearly 11 months all weighed on gold early in the year. Rising bond yields generally dimmed the metal’s appeal, with holdings in physical gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs)—a key pillar of support for bullion’s surge to record highs in 2020—extending declines as outflows continued through April. Essentially, last year’s ETF demand became a new source of supply in 2021 as gold bars were liquidated from ETF vaults.

In April, gold prices edged higher as markets began to normalise and traditional sources of demand such a jewelry began to recover.

Interestingly, growing inflation worries have not corresponded to higher gold prices so far, although, to be fair, current reported inflation numbers remain subdued thanks to low interest rates and technology-related efficiencies. Despite notable improvement in the United States, China and elsewhere, the global economy is still under extreme stress after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns, and the path to a full global recovery is unlikely to be smooth in all parts of the world. We believe that inflation will feature prominently in many countries as governments look to deflate their way out of the debt they have had to take on in the crisis. This may drive regional demand for gold as a proven alternative to holding paper money in inflationary environments.

Aside from traditional currency effects, gold market analysts speculate that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies might be replacing gold in some investors’ minds as an inflation hedge. However, we see significant differences in the way many governments view and treat cryptocurrencies compared to gold, and we certainly see government regulations as a major risk factor that does not exist to the same degree for gold given the long history and central banks’ heavy involvement in the gold market.

In our view, a turbulent 2020 leaves lingering uncertainty in the gold markets but also presents several areas for demand to grow. Indian demand for gold in 2020 was at its lowest level in the World Gold Council’s data series, leaving significant room for increased demand moving forward as the economy hopefully normalises.1 Global central bank buying fell off in 2020 as cash was deployed to stabilise economies and provide economic stimulus, but gold may again find favour with central banks if interest rates remain historically low and global currency markets become choppy.

Germany was a standout market in 2020, as the country’s negative interest-rate environment seemed to increase the allure of gold as a store of value. Germany surpassed India to claim the second-highest retail market in the world behind China.2 The Q1 World Gold Council demand report featured a 52% year-over-year recovery in global jewelry demand—the strongest quarterly start to any year since 2013, and indicative of the economic recovery in many parts of the world.3 Bar and coin investment was also up 36% on a year-ago basis, boosted by gold’s pullback from the 2020 highs and concerns about building inflationary pressures.4 If gold ETF investor interest stabilises and some of the more traditional markets continue to recover and grow, we believe this could be supportive for gold.

Gold prices averaged US$1,798 per ounce in Q1 2021—slightly below the fourth-quarter average of US$1,876 but still at a level that should support strong free cash flow for gold producers, and significantly above the Q1 2020 average of US$1,582. Gold mines have resumed operations following pandemic-induced shutdowns, which we believe leaves them better-positioned to benefit from still-elevated gold prices.

Although the gold-mining industry’s coronavirus safety precautions (including travel restrictions) have resulted in slightly higher production costs, gold prices moved up much faster than costs over the past year, leaving room for strong margin expansion.

Other precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium have very different supply and demand profiles, but all of these metals are seeing upward price movement so far this year. Palladium prices pushed to new all-time highs in April, while rhodium, used in automotive catalytic converters to remove nitrogen oxide, ended April very close to its all-time high set in March, with prices seeing a nearly fourfold increase since April 2020 to just shy of US$30,000 an ounce. Moreover, the April-end price level for rhodium—considered the rarest and most valuable precious metal in the world—was almost 40 times higher than it was just five years ago based on higher demand from the automotive industry to meet stricter emission norms.

A Supportive Environment for Mining Companies

Gold has had a very low correlation with other asset classes over time, but gold industry equities have remained fairly closely correlated to gold bullion price trends. Many gold producers struggled to generate free cash flow in a US$1,250-per-ounce gold environment, as total costs for many of them are close to that level, according to our analysis. Mining costs tend to be relatively fixed, so the current higher gold prices can flow straight through to the bottom line.

Given several years of underinvestment by the gold industry, we expect a pickup in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in 2021, although the pace continues to be impacted in the near term by travel restrictions and other pandemic-induced business impairments. We have already seen several M&A deals in the first four months of 2021 and expect this to continue.

Although the pullback in gold from the 2020 highs is noteworthy, we believe the opportunities in gold- and precious-metals-focused equities are even more compelling, especially if gold prices can hold current levels or move even higher. Many gold companies have seen their forecasted cash flows increase faster than their stock prices over the past year, resulting in contracting equity valuation multiples despite the improving fundamentals.

Given the metal’s modest selloff thus far in 2021, many gold producers have unsurprisingly underperformed the broader equity market; however, we think gold prices remain at very supportive levels for most mining companies. Additionally, higher byproduct copper credits (copper ore is often found alongside gold and other metal deposits) are likely to further support several precious metals producers in 2021. Copper—having more than doubled in price from its March 2020 lows—posted an unprecedented eleventh monthly gain in February before a slightpull back in March only to push higher again in April, coming close to the 2011 all-time highs. The uptrend has been backed by investor expectations that a solid demand rebound in China had further room to run and that the country’s evolving ‘green’ focus on CO2 reduction and electrification will only strengthen from here.

Most mining companies have maintained a keen focus on improving the cost structure of their operations, debt repayment and asset rationalisation, which we believe should result in better business fundamentals and improved stock performance potential as management teams look increasingly focused on generating free cash flow that can be returned to shareholders via dividends (or reinvested in high-return projects).

In addition, we believe small- and middle-capitalisation gold equities may present some of the best opportunities given their generally lower valuations and our belief in the need for further M&A consolidation as mining companies seek to replenish their resources following several years of limited exploration and development activity.

Important Legal Information

This material is intended to be of general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax advice.

The views expressed are those of the investment manager and the comments, opinions and analyses are rendered as of publication date and may change without notice. The information provided in this material is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any country, region or market.

Data from third party sources may have been used in the preparation of this material and Franklin Templeton (“FT”) has not independently verified, validated or audited such data. FT accepts no liability whatsoever for any loss arising from use of this information and reliance upon the comments, opinions and analyses in the material is at the sole discretion of the user.

Products, services and information may not be available in all jurisdictions and are offered outside the U.S. by other FT affiliates and/or their distributors as local laws and regulation permits. Please consult your own financial professional or Franklin Templeton institutional contact for further information on availability of products and services in your jurisdiction.

Issued in the U.S. by Franklin Templeton Distributors, Inc., One Franklin Parkway, San Mateo, California 94403-1906, (800) DIAL BEN/342-5236,—Franklin Templeton Distributors, Inc. is the principal distributor of Franklin Templeton Investments’ U.S. registered products, which are not FDIC insured; may lose value; and are not bank guaranteed and are available only in jurisdictions where an offer or solicitation of such products is permitted under applicable laws and regulation.

What Are the Risks?

All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. The value of investments can go down as well as up, and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. The precious metals sector involves fluctuations in the price of gold and other precious metals and increased susceptibility to adverse economic and regulatory developments affecting the sector. In times of stable economic growth, traditional equity and debt investments could offer greater appreciation potential and the prices of gold and other precious metals may be adversely affected.

Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size and lesser liquidity. Smaller and newer companies can be particularly sensitive to changing economic conditions. Their growth prospects are less certain than those of larger, more established companies, and they can be volatile. A non-diversified portfolio involves the risk of greater price fluctuation than a more diversified one.

Buying and using blockchain-enabled digital currency carries risks, including the loss of principal. Speculative trading in bitcoins and other forms of cryptocurrencies, many of which have exhibited extreme price volatility, carries significant risk.  Among other risks, interactions with companies claiming to offer cryptocurrency payment platforms or other cryptocurrency-related products and services may expose users to fraud. Blockchain technology is a new and relatively untested technology and may never be implemented to a scale that provides identifiable benefits. Investing in cryptocurrencies and ICOs is highly speculative and an investor can lose the entire amount of their investment. If a cryptocurrency is deemed a security, it may be deemed to violate federal securities laws. There may be a limited or no secondary market for cryptocurrencies.

Past performance is not an indicator or a guarantee of future results.


1. Source: World Gold Council, ‘Gold Demand Trends Full Year and Q4 2020,’ 28 January 2021.

2. Ibid.

3. Source: World Gold Council, ‘Gold Demand Trends Q1 2021,’ 29 April 2021.

4. Ibid.

Get Content Alerts in My Inbox

Receive email alerts when a new blog is posted.