Gold sees its biggest drop since 2013, just when you’d think it would be soaring

Gold bars
The best explanation for gold’s unexpected drop: Investors are selling to cover their losses in stocks, commodities and other assets.
(Michael Probst / Associated Press)

It is an odd moment for the price of gold to be tumbling. One of the oldest and most trusted havens in times of crisis, gold typically rallies amid nasty stock sell-offs like the one that has gripped the world this week.

So gold’s plunge Friday — as much as 5%, the most in almost seven years — caught many traders flat-footed and scrambling for explanations. The most often heard of them: Gold investors don’t want to sell but are forced to so they can cover their losses in other asset classes.

“It’s bloodshed,” Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch said by phone Friday. “It first started with forced selling from equity investors who also sold their gold positions to cover their losses in equities and also to cover margin calls.”

The metal slid 3.6% to settle at $1,585.69 an ounce in New York on Friday. Other precious metals including silver and platinum also dropped, with palladium declining as much as 13%, the most since 2008.

Fear over the economic fallout from the coronavirus has unnerved markets, sending the S&P 500 index toward its worst week since 2008. The outbreak has further undercut investor demand for raw materials, which was already wavering because of increasing supplies and concerns over global trade wars. Returns from commodities have plunged on worries that the fast-spreading virus will crush demand for raw materials, fuel and food across the globe.


The rout is showing no signs of abating as the virus continues to spread quickly outside of China, where the outbreak began. Major commodity trading houses are keeping employees from going abroad and several events this week at the oil industry’s biggest gathering were canceled. Most exhibitors from China were forced to pull out of a big annual mining conference in Toronto next week because of international travel restrictions, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

“The possibility that China may be using less is hurting commodity accounts and therefore you’re going to see margin calls,” George Gero, a managing director at RBC Wealth Management, said by phone Friday.

Still, with the Federal Reserve expected to cut interest rates this year — something that many investors, rightly or wrongly, associate with higher gold prices — some analysts said they expect any price drops to be short term. Gold is still up almost 4% this year, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has said it may hit $1,800 in 12 months.

“We think that there will be opportunities to continue to add to long exposure,” Suki Cooper, precious metals analyst at Standard Chartered Bank, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “You might see a little bit of a sell-off, so there might be better entry levels. But beyond that, we think that upside risks still linger for gold.”