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Is the Fed facing a credibility problem and why is gold price the 'punching bag'?

Kitco News

(Kitco News) Extreme volatility in the marketplace in reaction to the latest policy shift by the Federal Reserve has many risk-on assets in a downward spiral, but why is gold — a safe-haven asset — once again 'the punching bag'?

Gold failed to hold above the $1,900 an ounce level this week as markets had a very erratic reaction to the Fed raising rate by half-a-point Wednesday while ruling out a 75-bps hike at the June meeting. The precious metal is ending the week down 1.6%, with June Comex gold futures last trading at $1,883.30 an ounce.

The Fed had one of the most highly anticipated announcements this week, and markets showed it, with the Nasdaq reversing all immediate gains and plummeting 5% on Thursday in its worst one-day sell-off since June 2020.

The markets wonder if the Fed has made a mistake - making a recession in the U.S. inevitable, OANDA senior market analyst Edward Moya told Kitco News.

"Wall Street now believes that the Fed is on a set course of delivering half-a-point rate hikes over the next couple of meetings, and at then Jackson Hole, they'll have to decide whether to continue or change course," Moya said. "Many traders thought that the Fed needed to keep all options on the table to aggressively fight inflation. But the Fed is signaling they believe inflation is peaking. There is this fear that possibly the Fed made a mistake and might have to send the economy into a recession a lot sooner."

After stating they are "not actively considering a 75 basis-point hike, the U.S. central bank has locked itself into slightly more gradual tightening. In response, the bond market has resumed its sell-off, pushing the U.S. dollar index back close to 20-year highs, which is bad news for gold, added Moya.

This market reaction could also signify that the Fed is losing its credibility, especially after underestimating inflation as transitory last year.

"My reading is that the Fed faces a credibility problem with market participants. There's concern that the Fed could cause a recession by hiking rates," Gainesville Coins precious metals expert Everett Millman told Kitco News. "Important to consider an inverse relationship between interest rates and unemployment. Unemployment is very low right now. If markets perceive the Fed as willing to let unemployment rise to tame inflation, that is still not a great outcome. There is fear of causing prolonged periods of unfavorable conditions for risk assets."

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There has been massive liquidation of risk assets in the post-Fed trading, with many investors moving into cash, Millman pointed out. "That's why all markets crashed together," he said.

It is important to remember that gold held reasonably well considering how high the U.S. dollar is. And even though gold remains vulnerable to pullbacks, Millman remained bullish.

"The pullback gives gold plenty of room to run," he said. "Plus, the highs of the U.S. dollar index could be near the top. That would be good for gold as it sets up a macroeconomic environment favorable to the precious metal. But prices are still likely to experience elevated intraday volatility."

Gold has been "a punching bag for quite some time," Moya described, adding that until the U.S. dollar comes down, the precious metal will continue to struggle.

"If we continue to see risk aversion across equities and if the dollar appreciation is not as strong as we've got used to seeing, gold should start to stabilize. There is still a big risk that we could have another major move in the bond market, and gold could still be vulnerable to the last major sell-off before things bottom out," he explained.

Key resistance for next week will be the $1,900-$1,920 an ounce, and the $1,850 level will be the first support target, which, if breached, could send prices to $1,800, Moya stated.

Markets will be extra data-dependent next week, and the critical dataset to watch will be the U.S. inflation numbers from April.

One significant risk is the longer the supply chain problems last and the war in Ukraine persists, the more it puts a drag on growth, Moya added. And China is not budging from its zero-COVID policy. "That is difficult for the inflation outlook. I am not convinced that we'll see it significantly ease," he said.

Market consensus calls are expecting the annual inflation in the U.S. to slow to 8.1% in April after accelerating to 8.5% in March.

"Consumer price inflation is the key number out of the U.S. next week and it should hopefully show inflation has passed the peak with the year-on-year rate slowing … and core inflation edging down," said ING chief international economist James Knightley. "Lower gasoline prices will be a big help, as will a drop in second-hand car prices as heralded by data from the Mannheim car auctions. However, it will be a long slow descent to get to the 2% target."

Data to watch next week

Wednesday: U.S. CPI

Thursday: U.S. jobless claims and PPI

Friday: Michigan consumer sentiment

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