There was a time when gold ETFs seemed unstoppable.
They worked when the global economy hummed. They provided relative safety when the world economy collapsed. They hedged against inflation. Heck, they even appeared to hedge against deflation. And there were very few folks who benefited from bad-mouthing the yellow metal as the commodity ran from $850 an ounce up through $1900 an ounce.
It follows that, when the Fed double-downed on its commitment to electronic money creation for quantitative easing (QE) last September, one might have anticipated a surge in gold prices. Dollar devaluation has often led to spikes in alternatives to fiat currencies like SPDR Gold Trust (NYSEArca: GLD) and iShares COMEX Gold Trust (NYSEArca: IAU).
Something changed over the last year, however. Not only have gold ETFs been a drag on diversified portfolios, but their price movement have lined up with industrial metals. For example, GLD has demonstrated a remarkably high correlation (.93) to iPath Copper (NYSEArca: JJC) across a 12-month period. Industrial metals like copper have struggled for several years due to the global slowdown in economic growth, particularly in China.
On the other hand, useful metals like copper do not typically travel the same path as precious metals. The 3-year correlation coefficient between JJC and GLD is -.05. What’s more, prior to the start of 2012, these assets nearly demonstrated a strong inverse relationship, not a strong positive one.