Gold just had its worst year since 1981

Gold still makes a lovely helmet.
Gold still makes a lovely helmet.
Image: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel
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Alas, it seems like gold bugs have given up on the arrival of the long-awaited, Weimar-style hyper-inflation in US.

The dawning realization has sent futures prices for the precious metal down a bit more than 28% this year, to just above $1,200 per troy ounce. And that’s made it one of the worst assets to own this year. (Yes, some commodities such as corn (-39%) and silver (-35%) have done even worse.)

Barring a year-end rally of remarkable proportions tomorrow, this is going to be the worst year for gold since 1981, when the metal tumbled more than 30%.


Of course, inflation was a real thing back in the early 1980s. And gold’s crash in 1981 coincided with maverick Fed Chairman Paul Volcker’s effort to stamp it out. Volcker’s cure was costly. By jacking up the Federal Funds rate to a nose-bleeding 20%, he sank the economy into a deep recession.

The rationale behind the recent surge of gold prices was far more specious. Inflation-focused investors argued that the Federal Reserve’s recent effort to push new money into the economy by buying bonds—known as quantitative easing—would inevitably set off a spiral of inflation.

It hasn’t. In fact, inflation is only of concern right now because it is too low, consistently undershooting the US central bank’s stated goal of about 2% a year. Here’s a look at the Fed’s favorite inflation gauge:


And now that the Fed has announced its plan to start trimming its bond purchases—the long-awaited taper—it seems like investors are finding an even tougher time justifying owning the metal.

On the other hand, don’t feel too bad for the gold bugs. This year will be the first time since 2000 that gold has actually had a down year. And between the end of 2008 and gold’s peak in August 2011, the metal had surged 113%. If gold bugs didn’t lighten up on their holdings then, they have no one to blame but themselves.