What Do Changes In GLD's Bullion Inventory Tell Us About The Future Gold Price?

Jan. 31, 2016 12:42 PM ETSPDR Gold Trust ETF (GLD)30 Comments
Steven Saville profile picture
Steven Saville

Editor's note: Originally published at tsi-blog.com on January 30th, 2016.

Physical gold 'flowing' into the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (NYSEARCA:GLD) and the other gold ETFs does not cause the gold price to rise and physical gold flowing out of gold ETFs does not cause the gold price to fall. The cause and effect actually works the other way around, with the price change being the cause and the flow of gold into or out of the ETFs being the effect. I've covered the reasons before (for example, HERE and HERE), but cause and effect are regularly still being mixed up in gold-related articles so I'm revisiting the topic.

The Net Asset Value (NAV) of a gold ETF such as GLD naturally moves up and down by the same percentage amount as the gold price, so a change in the gold price will not necessarily require any change in the size of GLD's bullion inventory. It's only when GLD's market price deviates from its own NAV that a change in bullion inventory occurs. For example, assume that the gold price gains 10%. In this case, GLD's NAV will gain 10% and there will be no increase or decrease in GLD's inventory as long as GLD's market price also rises by 10%. However, if GLD's market price rises by 11% then gold will be added to the ETF's inventory to bring its market price and NAV back into line, and if GLD's market price rises by only 9% then gold will be removed from the ETF's inventory to bring its market price and NAV back into line.

Note that the manager of the ETF doesn't have to initiate anything in the above-described process. The ETF's Authorized Participants (APs) initiate the process in order to generate arbitrage profits. More specifically, a deviation between market price and NAV creates an opportunity for the ETF's APs to pocket risk-free profits by selling or buying gold bullion and simultaneously buying or selling ETF shares.

All ETFs work the same way. That is, there's nothing special about the way GLD works. The modus operandi ensures that the market prices of ETFs usually track their NAVs very closely.

Why, then, does the following chart show a long-term positive correlation between the gold price and GLD's bullion inventory?

Because traders of GLD shares tend to get more optimistic about gold's prospects and buy more aggressively AFTER the gold price has risen, causing GLD's market price to rise relative to its NAV and prompting arbitrage that results in the addition of bullion to the ETF's inventory. And because traders of GLD shares tend to become more pessimistic about gold's prospects and sell more aggressively AFTER the gold price has fallen, causing GLD's market price to fall relative to its NAV and prompting arbitrage that results in the removal of bullion from the ETF's inventory. The correlation is far from perfect, because GLD traders won't always become increasingly optimistic in reaction to a price rise or increasingly pessimistic in reaction to a price decline.


A final point worth making is that the annual change in GLD's bullion inventory has always been very small relative to the total size of the gold market. Given the size of the total above-ground gold supply, there is very little chance that a few hundred tonnes per year moving into or out of GLD's coffers could have a significant effect on the price.

So, the answer to the question "What do changes in GLD's bullion inventory tell us about the future gold price?" is: nothing.

This article was written by

Steven Saville profile picture
I graduated from the University of Western Australia in 1984 with a degree in electronic engineering and from 1984 until 1998 worked in the commercial construction industry as an engineer, a project manager and an operations manager. I began investing in the stock market 2 months prior to the 1987 stock market crash and thus quickly learned about the downside potential of stocks. Only slightly daunted by the rather inauspicious timing of my entry into the world of financial market investments, my interest in the stock market grew steadily over the years. In 1993, after studying the history of money, the nature of our present-day fiat monetary system and the role of banks in the creation of money, I developed an interest in gold. Another very important lesson soon followed: gold may be the ideal form of money for those who believe in free markets and a wonderful hedge against the inherent instability of the government-imposed paper currencies, but it is not always a good investment. By mid-1998 the time and money involved in my financial market research/investments had grown to the point where I was forced to make a decision: scale back on my involvement in the financial world or give up my day job. The decision was actually quite an easy one to make and so, at the beginning of 1999, I began investing/trading on a full-time basis. My major concern in deciding to pursue a career in which I devoted all of my time to my own investments was that I would miss the personal interaction that had been part and parcel of my business management career. The Speculative Investor (TSI) web site was launched in August of 1999 as a means for me to interact with the world by making my analysis/ideas available on the Internet and inviting feedback from others with similar interests. During its first 14 months of operation the TSI web site was free of charge, but due to the site's growing popularity I changed it to a subscription-based service in October of 2000. Its popularity continued to grow, although I remained -- and remain to this day -- a professional speculator who happens to write a newsletter as opposed to someone whose overriding focus is selling newsletter subscriptions. My approach is 'top down'; specifically, I first ascertain overall market trends and then use a combination of fundamental and technical analysis to find individual stocks that stand to benefit from these broad trends. This approach is based on my experience that it's an order of magnitude easier to pick a winning stock from within a market or market sector that's immersed in a long-term bullish trend than to do so against the backdrop of a bearish overall market trend. Fortunately, there's always a bull market somewhere. I've lived in Asia (Hong Kong, China and Malaysia) since 1995 and currently reside in Malaysian Borneo.
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