Gold and oil are quiet … too quiet

Gold and oil prices have remained dormant despite ongoing conflict in the Middle East and growing tensions between Russia and the West. It looks like neither commodity is a reliable way to trade global tensions anymore.

When gold hit $US850 an ounce in January 1980, it was established firmly as the key geopolitical safe haven for investors.

The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis was nearing its denouement. In other words, investors were worried about both Russia and the Middle East and that, supposedly, was why the gold price spiked.

And oil, of course, was at the heady price of $US40 a barrel, following the second supply shock of 1979, coinciding with the revolution in Iran.

Thirty-four years later, investors are once again worried about Russia and the Middle East. Relations between the West and Russia are breaking down, with some kind of modern Cold War based on economic sanctions starting up, and hell is breaking loose in northern Iraq and Syria.

But this time gold and oil are both dormant.

Gold is stuck in a tight trading range around $US1300 an ounce and the oil price is actually tumbling despite events in the Middle East. Last night the price of Brent crude futures dropped 1.3 per cent to below $US103 a barrel for the first time since April 2013.

The truth is that neither commodity is any longer a reliable way to trade global tensions.

Gold is a safe haven from inflation, not war -- and probably always has been -- and there is a global glut of oil driving the price down. Peak oil turned out to be peak false alarm.

In fact not only are supplies of oil from both OPEC and the US surging, the International Energy Agency has cut its forecast for global demand growth this year by 180,000 barrels per day to 1 mb/d, commenting that the market was "eerily calm" in the face of all the geopolitical action taking place.

Any disruptions in supply from the Middle East have so far been overwhelmed by the increase in supply from elsewhere, in particular from the US, which has now become the world's biggest oil producer, increasing output by 1.2 mb/d this year to 11.5m.

But the real non-action is in gold.

The September 2011 peak of $US1923.70 took the price above the inflation-adjusted 1980 peak for the first time. In early 2012 Goldman Sachs famously predicted the price would go to $US5000.

But in fact it stayed around $US1700 for a year and then collapsed in early 2013 to $US1200 and has since been gradually narrowing its trading range from $US1200-$1400 to a much tighter band around $US1300.

In the past week there has been a lot of commentary that gold has climbed back above US$1300 and is heading higher because of geopolitical tensions, but that looks like the wishful thinking of gold bulls, hanging out for something -- anything -- to rescue them.

In fact it looks like gold is not, and probably never has been, a reliable safe haven for investors worried about war.

Gold rises when it looks like the value of fiat money is going to be eroded by inflation, as it did in 1980. It fell in 2013 because contrary to expectations, money printing did not cause a blowout in inflation, and instead deflation was stalking the world.

Now it looks like the Fed has defeated deflation while the European Central Bank is still battling it, but bottom line: inflation is out of the picture, helped by the falling oil price.

Will gold and oil remain "eerily calm" in the face of rising tensions with Russia and the Middle East?

Well, never say never with assets or financial markets, but it's fair to say it will be a long time before Goldman Sachs' gold prediction comes true, and the only thing 'peak' about oil was its price in 2011.

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