Why hasn’t the Federal government’s extraordinary fiscal and monetary stimulus led to higher inflation and bigger increases in gold? Imagine if we were told last February that $5 trillion would be injected into the U.S. economy by May — a $3 trillion increase in the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and $2 trillion in Congress’ fiscal stimulus (the CARES act). I would have expected both gold prices and inflation expectations to explode.
Yet they instead have reacted with little more than a shrug. According to the Cleveland Federal Reserve, expected inflation annualized over the next 10 years has fallen to 1.16% from 1.62% in February.
And while gold GC00, has rallied after initially falling along with the S&P 500 SPX, in late February and early March, its price now is almost 3% below its mid-April high — including a 1.5% decline on Thursday of this week alone.
The first factor that helps to explain these otherwise inscrutable reactions is the declining velocity of money — how often money changes hands. That’s because increasing the supply of money, as the federal government has done, will be less stimulating to the extent people are less inclined to use it.
There’s no doubt that the velocity of money has fallen. In fact, as you can see from the chart below, it has plunged. Part of the reason that the velocity has fallen is that many of us have been sheltering in place and therefore have had fewer opportunities to spend than previously. But we’re also reticent to spend because we’re worried about the future — whether we’ll have a job, whether a crashing stock market will sabotage our retirements, and so on.
So while there is more money sloshing around the economy, we’re less likely to spend it. It therefore shouldn’t be particularly surprising that the additional stimulus hasn’t translated into higher inflation expectations and gold prices.
The other reason the price of gold hasn’t exploded upwards in the wake of the extraordinary government stimulus is excessive bullishness on the part of gold market timers. As contrarian analysis teaches us, markets typically perform better in the wake of skepticism than in the wake of optimism.