The narration of reflation and ‘Great Fiscal Rotation’ imply that the Fed will hike interest rates in a more aggressive way in a response to accelerated growth and higher inflation. We have already covered the Fed’s likely policy in 2017 in the previous edition of the Market Overview, but let’s discuss the impact of higher interest rates for the U.S. dollar and gold once again. It is widely believed that higher interest rates are bullish for greenback and bearish for the yellow metal. Is that really so? Some analysts do not agree with that opinion, pointing out that the U.S. dollar did not rally during Fed tightening cycles. Therefore, the hawkish Fed may be actually good for gold, they argue.
They are right, in some senses. Just look at the chart below: the tightening cycle which took place in 2004-2006 was actually bearish for the greenback and bullish for gold, while the U.S. dollar was essentially traded sideways during ZIRP.
Chart 1: The broad trade weighted U.S. dollar index (green line, right axis) and the effective federal funds rate (red line, left axis, in %) from 1973 to 2016.
However, the three previous tightening cycles corresponded with the bullish dollar. Actually, the federal funds rate does not matter. As we have emphasized many times, what really counts for gold prices are the real interest rates, not the federal funds rate. The chart below illustrates that truth (we use the 1-year treasury yield adjusted for the CPI, since the yields at 10-year inflation-protected treasuries are available only since 2003).
Chart 2: The price of gold (right axis, yellow line, London P.M. Fix), the federal funds rate (red line, left axis, in %) and the real interest rates (green line, left axis, as 1-year treasury yield less CPI year-over-year, in %) from 1953 to 2016.