What Determines the Price of Gold?

The outlooks of gold analysts are diverse. After reading the latest WGC report, Mineweb is bullish: “Gold demand tops US$100 billion and mine supply remains under threat.” John Nadler, however, is bearish, citing the expected “additional 400–500 tonnes per annum” that will result from the exploration boom of the last few years. Tom Barlow even asks, “Are we running out of gold?”

 

 

I choose these examples not to pick on these authors. I could have just as easily chosen a hundred other examples: the vast majority of analysts who cover the gold market focus on mine supply as one of the main drivers of gold-price forecasts. I use these examples only to illustrate the ubiquity of this view.[1] However, while analysts need something to analyze — and the mining industry provides many analytical complexities — ultimately, their efforts are wasted. Mine supply has very little influence on the price of gold.

Anyone who agrees that the gold trade is a market would accept the premise that the price depends on supply and demand. Where most analysts go wrong is to analyze gold using what I will call the consumption model. This model counts the current year’s mine production plus scrap (and, in some versions, central-bank sales) as supply, and the current year’s purchases of jewelry, coins, bars, and industrial gold as demand.

 

Gold and the Consumption Model

The consumption model is good way to forecast the price of a commodity that meets two conditions:

 

  1. it is destructively consumed (or spoils), and
  2. the annual production of the commodity is large in relation to existing, above-ground stockpiles.

 

Oil is a good example of a commodity that meets these conditions. It is refined and then irreversibly combusted. The oil price must enable the market to clear more-or-less current production with current consumption, buffered only by the oil sitting on tankers and in underground reserves. Reserves cannot do not hold more than a few months’ supply, due to the high rate of oil consumption in relation to the storage capacity.

The consumption model does not explain price formation of a commodity where the two conditions are not met, because owners of the existing stocks own much more of the commodity than the producers bring to market. Consequently, they have far more influence over the price than do producers. Gold is the best example of such a commodity: gold is not consumed; people buy it in order to hold it; gold has the largest ratio of stock to annual production of any commodity.

In fact, it is estimated that nearly all of the gold ever mined in human history still exists. This supply grows by only 1 to 2 percent on an annual basis; or, if we look at the ratio from the other side, approximately 50–100 times the annual mine production is held in stockpiles.[2]

The consumption model would hold true if each year’s gold were segregated into its own market, with no arbitrage from previous years’ markets. But this is not the case: everyone who is buying, selling, and holding forms a single, integrated market. A buyer doesn’t care whether he receives gold mined within the past year.[3] Gold miners are competing with all of the holders of gold stockpiles when they sell. Contrary to the consumption model, the price of gold does clear the supply of recently mined gold against coin buyers; it clears all buyers against all sellers and holders. The amount of gold available at any price depends largely on the preferences of existing gold owners, because they own most of the gold.

Looking at the supply side of the market, each ounce in someone’s stockpile is for sale at some price. The offered price of each ounce is distinct from that of each other ounce, because each gold owner has a minimum selling price, or “reservation price,” for each one of their ounces. The demand for gold comes from holders of fiat money who demand gold by offering some quantity of money for it. In the same way that every ounce of gold is for sale at some price, every dollar would be sold if a sufficient volume of goods were offered in exchange. While some dollar owners are not interested in owning gold at any price, those who are interested have a maximum buying price for each ounce that they might purchase. You can think of their buying prices for gold ounces as their reservation price for holding dollars.

 

How the Price of Gold Is Formed

Rothbard provides a detailed, bottom-up analysis of price formation in a market like this. I will demonstrate his model with a sequence of diagrams that show how the dollar price of gold is formed. As a first step, suppose that while gold trading had been suspended for some time, the preferences of some of the gold owners and nonowners changed. Thus, when the market opens, some of them wish to buy while others wish to sell.

Rothbard constructs supply and demand curves using the reservation prices of the individual buyers and sellers. The supply curve at each price is the total amount of gold ounces for sale by all gold owners at or above that price. The demand curve at each price is the total amount gold ounces that could be purchased with the dollars offered at that price (or below that price). The market-clearing price is that point where supply and demand are balanced.

 

Figure 1: Before Trading

 

When trading opened, the market participants would converge on market-clearing price. Once a price had been established, all of the buyers offering at or above that price would buy, and the all of the sellers asking at or below that price would sell. Trading would continue until no one wanted to exchange gold for dollars or dollars for gold. At that point in time, the market will have cleared. Supply and demand curves would be as they are in Figure 2.

After trading, everyone has adjusted gold and dollar balances to their preferred levels. The market would show two quoted prices for gold: the best bid and the best offer. The best bid is the price offered by the marginal nonbuyer of gold, and the best offer is the price asked by the marginal nonseller of gold. More trading could occur only if a buyer increased their bid price, or a seller decreased their ask price, for at least one ounce.

 

Figure 2: After Trading

 

Suppose that, from this new starting point, one gold owner lowered his asking price for one of his ounces below the best offer of the most marginal seller. A trade would then take place between the gold owner and the marginal seller. What would the situation be after the trade? The same as before, except that the best bid and best offer prices might be different. The new prices would depend on the reservation price of the buyer of the single ounce. If his reservation price were above the best bid but below that of the next most marginal seller, then the new buyer would become the marginal seller and would set the best offer price. But his reservation price might be much higher — enough to make another one of the existing gold owners the new marginal seller.

The miner is different from other gold owners in that he produces gold, while the other owners bought their gold. But from a price-formation standpoint, it doesn’t matter how or where it came from; the miner can choose a reservation price, or not. Most miners do not have a reservation price; they sell at market.[4]

The gold analysts and I agree that, in a market, the marginal buyer and seller set the prices. It is also true that the miner is always a marginal seller because they sell at market. However, the entire population of suppliers and demanders must be considered in order to identify who the marginal buyers are and the price where the trades take place. All of the demanders influence the price through their decision not to offer a higher price. All of the (nonmine) suppliers influence the price through their decision not to ask for a lower price. To sell at market means to sell at the price set largely by those buyers and sellers who do have reservation prices. The problem with the consumption model is that it ignores the influence of the majority of sellers on the price.

How does the presence of sellers selling at market affect the price? The miner’s presence affects the supply curve as shown in Figure 3.

 


Figure 3: Mine and Nonmine Supply

 

Some trades will take place below what was the best bid before the miner entered the market, as shown in Figure 4.

 

Figure 4: Mining and Supply

 

Once the miner has sold his stocks, we are back to the situation shown in Figure 2. What was the freshly mined gold is part of the new buyer’s stockpile. There will be a new bid and ask price, which will take into account the reservation price of the person who bought the miner’s gold. We cannot say what the new bid and ask will be: either could be above or below the price before the miner sold.

 

Some Objections

Now that I’ve explained how the price of gold is determined in the market, I will look at two of the objections I have received when I have presented the ideas above:

 

Mine supply is the only supply available to the market, because gold investors are primarily of the buy-and-hold mindset.

If gold buyers typically have long holding periods, then is gold like oil that was burned or corn that was eaten? Is it gone forever and not part of the market?

Every asset is for sale at some price. While many small gold coin and bar buyers have a reservation price that is more than $10 above today’s price, they do have a reservation price. There is a point at which other assets (stocks or bonds) or consumption goods (cars or houses) would start to look more attractive than holding the marginal ounce of gold. There can be no doubt that a good many gold owners would become sellers at $5,000, $10,000, or $100,000 per ounce.

 

Existing stocks of gold don’t affect the price because they are not for sale at the current price.

On closer examination, this is not really an argument: it is only a restatement of the definition of price. A price in a cleared market is that quantity of money below which nothing is offered for sale. While this is true, it does not provide any information about what the price will be. As discussed above, the price at which the first mined ounce is sold is set by the marginal nonseller and nonbuyers of gold.

Suppose, for example, that all of the gold owners had a reservation price of $5,000 or higher per ounce, with the buy prices of people holding dollars remaining where they are now. If that were the case, then once miners had sold their gold, gold would be offered at around $5,000 per ounce.

 

Conclusion

While mining doesn’t have much impact on the gold price, the reverse is not true: the gold price has significant influence on the mining industry. The economics of mining explains this. The cost of getting the gold out of the ground is sensitive to several factors, including the grade of the deposit, its depth below the surface, proximity to refining infrastructure, the cost of energy, the cost of labor, and other variables. The marginal cost of mining more gold above current production rises rather sharply. It would not be profitable for the gold-mining industry to increase production enough to have much impact on the total gold supply during any given year.

The consumption model of gold pricing ignores the influence of the majority of sellers on the price of gold. It counts only a minority of the sellers. The consumption model does include “scrap sales” (sales by those sellers whose reservation price was low enough to result in a sale). But the suppliers who did not sell outnumber those who did — by a large margin — and the selling price of those who did sell was primarily determined by those who did not.

 

Notes

[1] The sole exception that I can think of is a report from Credit Agricole, authored by Paul Mylchreest.

[2] You must register with the World Gold Council to download their supply and demand data. For a comprehensive set of statistics, including the total above-ground stockpiles, see Gold Market Knowledge.

[3] The time window of one year is entirely arbitrary — why not one week?

[4] Some miners sell at a predetermined price because they have entered into hedging contracts. This price could be above or below the market. Other miners (though very few) do have a reservation price. These miners stockpile gold if it is above their reservation price.

 

Addendum by Pater Tenebrarum

We are very happy to welcome Robert Blumen as a new guest author on Acting Man. Robert’s work has previously appeared at the Mises Institute, Lew Rockwell.com, Financial Sense, Safe Haven and numerous other well known sites dedicated to free market ideas. The above article has originally appeared at the Mises Institute, which has kindly given us permission to reprint it. We decided to reprint it, as it deals in great detail with a concept we have previously discussed in passing, namely the important role reservation demand plays in the gold market.

We have published a number of articles such as ‘Some Thoughts on Gold’, part 1 and part 2, or more recently ‘Gold Still Misunderstood‘ and ‘Precious Metals, an Update‘, in which we looked at the fundamental drivers of the gold market and the errors many mainstream analysts of the gold market are prone to make.

In particular, many (most?) of them still analyze gold as though it were an industrial commodity. Obviously something cannot be right with this approach, given that all the gold ever mined still exists above ground (i.e., the great bulk of it has not been ‘used up’ as an intermediate capital good in industrial processes).

The concept of reservation demand is therefore one that everyone who is interested in proper analysis of the gold market should be aware of.

As we are sure our readers will agree, Robert’s article provides an excellent summary and explanation of this concept.

We are looking forward to publishing more of Robert’s work in the future (we are planning to soon publish a new article by Robert that takes a critical look at the faulty gold supply-demand analysis peddled by a certain well-known mainstream precious metals research group).

 

 
 

Emigrate While You Can... Learn More

 
 

 
 

Dear Readers!

You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.

   

Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke

   
 

3 Responses to “What Determines the Price of Gold?”

  • RandianZealot:

    If you really wanna know what determines the price of gold, it’s this: http://goldtradingmastery.com/index.php/2017/01/09/gold-an-intro-to-supply-demand-analysis-part-1/

  • RandianZealot:

    “while analysts need something to analyze — and the mining industry provides many analytical complexities — ultimately, their efforts are wasted. Mine supply has very little influence on the price of gold.”

    I agree. Saying that mine supply has an effect on the price of gold is like saying that the Federal Reserve printing money has an effect on the value of the dollar. Obviously, the annual supply of extra dollars created is a very small percentage of the total amount of dollars in circulation. So really, it doesn’t have any effect.

    So the FED can really print a lot more money than it does now and it won’t cause inflation…because the above-ground stock of dollars is so large when compared to annual output.

    And if you think I’m not being sarcastic, you deserve to be deluded by the above article.

  • I really can’t believe you allowed Robert Blumen to post on your website. The guys doesn’t understand the free market or credit. Bad move!!!

Your comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Most read in the last 20 days:

  • What Do “Think Tanks” Think About?
      “Russiagate” WEST RIVER, MARYLAND – We’re back at our post – watching... reading... trying to connect the dots. And we begin by asking: What do “think tanks” think about? The answer in a minute. First, there is a dust-up in the Washington, D.C., area. “Russiagate,” it is called. As near as we can make out, some people think the Trump team had or has illegal or inappropriate contacts with the Russian government.   It's all very obvious, if one looks...
  • Parabolic Coin
      The Crypto-Bubble - A Speculator's Dream in Cyberspace When writing an article about the recent move in bitcoin, one should probably not begin by preparing the chart images. Chances are one will have to do it all over again. It is a bit like ordering a cup of coffee in Weimar Germany in early November 1923. One had to pay for it right away, as a cup costing one wheelbarrow of Reichsmark may well end up costing two wheelbarrows of Reichsmark half an hour later. These days the question is...
  • Quantitative Easing Explained
      [Ed. note: This article was originally posted in November of 2010 - we have decided to republish it with updated charts, as it has proved to be very useful as a reference - the mechanics of QE are less well understood than they should be, and this article explains them in detail.]   Printing Money We have noticed that lately, numerous attempts have been made to explain the mechanics of quantitative easing.  They range from the truly funny as in this by now 'viral' You Tube...
  • The Three Headed Debt Monster That’s Going to Ravage the Economy
      Mass Infusions of New Credit   “The bank is something more than men, I tell you.  It’s the monster.  Men made it, but they can’t control it.” – John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath   Something strange and somewhat senseless happened this week. On Tuesday, the price of gold jumped over $13 per ounce.  This, in itself, is nothing too remarkable.  However, at precisely the same time gold was jumping, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury note was slip sliding down...
  • Jayant Bhandari on Gold, Submerging Markets and Arbitrage
      Maurice Jackson Interviews Jayant Bhandari We are happy to present another interview conducted by Maurice Jackson of Proven and Probable with our friend and frequent contributor Jayant Bhandari, a specialist on gold mining investment, the world's most outspoken emerging market contrarian, host of the highly regarded annual Capitalism and Morality conference in London and consultant to institutional investors.   As soon as Jayant touches down in London, he is accosted by...
  • Monetary Madness and Rabbit Consumption
      Down the Rabbit Hole “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,” is oft attributed to the White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland.  Where this axiom appears within the text of the story is a mystery.  But we suspect the White Rabbit must utter it about the time Alice follows him down the rabbit hole.   Pick a rabbit to follow...   No doubt, today’s wage earner knows what it means to work harder, faster, and better, while slip sliding behind. ...
  • Central Banks – Tiptoeing Toward the Exit
      Frisky Fed Hike-o-Matic We haven't commented on central bank policy for a while, mainly because it threatened to become repetitive; there just didn't seem anything new to say. Things have recently changed a bit though. A little over a week ago we received an email from Brian Dowd of Focus Economics, who asked if we would care to comment on the efforts by the Fed and the ECB to exit unconventional monetary policy and whether they could do so without triggering upheaval in the markets and...
  • The Anatomy of Brown’s Gold Bottom – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      The Socialist Politician-Bureaucrat with the Worst Timing Ever As most in the gold community know, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced on 7 May, 1999 that HM Treasury planned to sell gold. The dollar began to rise, from about 110mg gold to 120mg on 6 July, the day of the first sale. This translates into dollarish as: gold went down, from $282 to $258. It makes sense, as the UK was selling a lot of gold... or does it?   Former UK chancellor of the...
  • The Valium Era
      Don’t Be Fooled by These Calm Markets What is happening in the world of money? Well - the most striking thing is: nothing. It doesn’t seem to matter what happens. Dysfunction in Washington. Meltdown of the techs. No matter how rough the seas get, the markets glide along... scarcely noticing the storm-tossed waves below.   Thankfully the world's central planners are so well-versed in egging on the creation of an ever greater mountain of debt and seemingly limitless asset...
  • Is Trump a Modern Caesar?
      Putting on the Purple   Mayor: Drebin, I don’t want any more trouble like you had last year on the South Side. Understand? That’s my policy. Drebin: Yes. Well, when I see five weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards. That’s my policy. Mayor: That was a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones. – The Naked Gun   Laura Loomer,...
  • The Fed Rate Hike and Gold – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      Shrinking the Balance Sheet? The big news last week came from the Fed, which announced two things. One, it hiked the Fed Funds rate another 25 basis points. The target is now 1.00 to 1.25%, and there will be further increases this year. Two, the Fed plans to reduce its balance sheet, its portfolio of bonds.   Assets held by Federal Reserve banks and commercial bank reserves maintained with the Fed – note that while asset purchases and bank reserve creation are connected,...
  • How to Discover Unknown Market Anomalies
      Seasonax Event Studies As our readers are aware by now, investment and trading decisions can be optimized with the help of statistics. After all, market anomalies that have occurred regularly in the past often tend to occur in the future as well. One of the most interesting and effective opportunities to increase profits while minimizing risks at the same time is offered by the event studies section of the Seasonax app.   A recent event that had quite an impact on certain...

Support Acting Man

Austrian Theory and Investment

Own physical gold and silver outside a bank

Archive

j9TJzzN

350x200

Realtime Charts

 

Gold in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Gold in EUR:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Silver in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Platinum in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

USD - Index:

[Most Recent USD from www.kitco.com]

 

THE GOLD CARTEL: Government Intervention on Gold, the Mega Bubble in Paper and What This Means for Your Future

 
Buy Silver Now!
 
Buy Gold Now!
 

Oilprice.com