Monday, November 16, 2015

Gold Call Options

I bought a small amount of GLD call options today.

I got into the June $115 call for $1.59. I think this is a much better way to gain exposure than going outright long. With GLD trading at $103.5, maximum loss on this trade is only 1.5% of the long exposure obtained. I'm also long USD (currently against NZD and EUR), so some gold will help in case the Fed hike thesis falls apart.

Gold has been beaten down to multi-year lows and I can understand why. The Fed can't stop talking about raising rates. Inflation is no where in sight. Marginal costs for gold producers keep declining over the years, and will get lower if the US dollar strengthens. Jewelry demand, roughly 50% of total demand, will likely be weak in a low growth environment. Finally, after a massive build up over the past decade, ETFs has been decreasing their gold holdings the last couple years.

So why a long position? These call options are a low risk, high reward way to go contrarian on the consensus view that Fed will raise rates in December.

First take a step back. Gold has four functions: 1) as a safe haven/physical currency, 2) inflation hedge, 3) jewelry, 4) industrial use. Right now the only reason for anyone to own gold is the first one - gold as a currency. This is really the flip side of US dollar strength, which has everything to do with market's expectations of a rate hike.


It wasn't that long ago (just September!) that the Fed failed to raise rates and cited risks in China and low inflation. Every other day some Fed officials (Lacker, Bullard, Lockart, Brainard...etc) took their turn going rogue on media and gave contradictory statements.

Now, just a couple months later, everyone is supposed to have suddenly fell in line and agree to raise rates? That hardly seems credible to me.

Last year's experience made clear a few things about the Yellen Fed regime. First, the Fed takes into consideration a lot more than its dual mandate of inflation and unemployment. Some of these unstated factors include general market stability, US dollar strength, and yes - China. Second, the Yellen Fed does not like to surprise the market, so October's hawkish Fed statements was just a way for Yellen to raise expectations of a December hike in the market. Put another way, October's Fed statement was just to keep their options open. Finally, we learned that it doesn't take much for the Fed to delay that rate hike -- perhaps permanently.

Given the lessons above, and all it takes is a weak inflation number, a couple bad numbers out of China, or another market meltdown to lower the probability of the December hike.

As for gold, market expectations about the rate hike is what matters. If any of the above happens, the call option will likely be a winner. There's also very little downside. Depending on how macro data comes out, I might increase this option position.

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