All it took was a roughly 2% rally last week above $1,600 an ounce to trigger stories with headlines such as “Is gold getting ready for take-off?”
However, gold ETFs and the futures market are painting different pictures on gold sentiment.
Bulls argue gold could make a powerful move higher because sentiment on the precious metal in the futures market is at the lowest level in several yields. In other words, the crowd is usually wrong and there are plenty of traders who could chase a rally.
Net speculative gold futures positioning reported by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission show that net bullish positions dropped to near a four-year low in the week ending 20 July, ETF Securities said in a note Monday.
More quantitative easing by central banks could push gold prices higher, the analysts wrote.
According to a MarketWatch story Monday from Peter Brimelow, bullion dealer Standard Bank noted: “There currently is a large short position in Comex gold. Since 2004 (when physically backed gold ETFs were introduced to the market), there have been just five times that the size of the Comex gold non-commercial short positions stood out.”
Some of gold’s biggest recent rallies have occurred when futures traders were bearish on the metal.
This positioning “leaves room from which gold prices may rally on short covering,” said HSBC analysts in the article.
Conversely, the amount of gold held by bullion-backed ETFs is hovering near all-time highs.
This discrepancy suggests that money in gold ETFs tends to be “sticky” with more of a long-term mindset, compared with the futures market. Gold ETF investors haven’t run for the exits during gold’s pullback from over $1,900 an ounce. [Gold ETFs Could Speed Metal's Decline]
Bullion held in physically backed exchange traded products is just shy of 2,400 metric tons, according to data from Bloomberg. This figure translates to nearly 80 million ounces of gold held in exchange traded products listed around the globe.
The largest such ETF is SPDR Gold Shares (GLD).
“Analysts generally say it’s difficult to quantify the effect of funds that hold bullion on the price of gold, but agree that the growth of their holdings has helped fuel the surge in the metal’s price in recent years,” The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year.
The relationship between ETF holdings and the price of gold isn’t clear-cut and may not be a reliable indicator for short-term moves, according to Wall Street analysts. [Measuring the Impact of Gold ETFs]
Full disclosure: Tom Lydon’s clients own GLD.