There's a reason behind gold prices' narrow trading range of late.
Two themes dominating headlines in gold news over the last few months are pulling the yellow metal up, then tugging it back down, cancelling out gains and losses over the short term.
First, let's look at what's driving gold higher...
Gold prices rose today (Tuesday), finishing up $1.20 at $1,309.75. And that's no surprise - our gold price chart shows the yellow metal's been hovering just above or below the $1,300 an ounce mark since April.
In fact, spot gold has finished within $20 of $1,300 an ounce on the London p.m. fix at every mid-month point since April: $1,298 on April 15; $1,299 on May 15; $1,280 on June 15; and $1,310 on July 15.
The gold price gains stem from geopolitical tensions that started back in March. The safe-haven investment tends to enjoy gains when fear is in the air.
It began with Eastern Europe. On March 2, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said his country was "on the brink of disaster" after the Russian parliament approved use of military force in the country. Then on March 6, the regional parliament of Crimea voted unanimously to become part of Russia. The news sent gold soaring, and troubles in the region have only worsened.
On July 17, the price of gold spiked when news that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 - a passenger plane that carried 298 people - was potentially shot down by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. On August 6, gold prices shot up on news that Russian soldiers were gathering at the eastern Ukraine border. The EU and United States have placed heavy sanctions on Russia, and in response, Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned certain Ukrainian and European food products from his country as recently as last week.
"Geopolitics remains on the front burner of the market place. Tensions in Israel and Ukraine remain high. Pundits are now saying the U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated to Cold War levels," metals analyst and Kitco columnist Jim Wyckoff wrote on July 22.
While the Russia-Ukraine conflict escalated, troubles mounted in the Middle East. In June, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) began its advance toward Baghdad, moving gold prices up. And July brought about the worst escalation in violence between Israel and Gaza since November 2012.
"Some investors are buying gold as the Middle East region is very tense," R.J. O'Brien & Associates senior commodity broker Phil Streible said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. "We have been seeing an increase in the safe-haven premium since the violence in Ukraine started."
Despite gold prices spiking after each conflict, the yellow metal hasn't been able to keep the wind in its sails long.
"Gold has failed to find the vigor typically associated with rising fear. At around 55-million ounces held by ETF managers in response to trading flows in gold-backed funds, the total remains close to its lowest point of the year," Interactive Brokers chief market analyst Andrew Wilkinson said to CNBC.
It's a second recurring theme in gold news over the last few months that's been tipping the scale back to even...
The U.S. Federal Reserve has been hawkish mid-year on its plan to hike interest rates as soon as the first quarter of 2015. In July, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that interest rate increases may come "sooner and be more rapid than currently envisioned" should the labor market improve more quickly than anticipated.
Hiked interest rates are bad news for gold prices, which typically weaken when interest rates go up because investors seek out higher-yielding assets.
Money Morning Resource Specialist Peter Krauth is optimistic that despite Fed policy changes, gold prices will break out in coming months.
"With low interest rates that are likely to stay low for some time, the opportunity cost of owning gold is next to zero, making it an attractive asset," Krauth said. "I actually expect long-term rates to continue to trend downward for some time."
Another upward pressure on gold prices is inflation - estimates have Americans facing inflation greater than 3% or even 4% for the rest of 2014 and 2015.
That would send gold prices higher. As the value of a currency decreases - which is an effect of inflation - the price of precious metals increases. A declining value of a currency means that it takes more of that currency to purchase an ounce of the metal.
"While the inflation rate is still relatively low, there are increasing signs of rising inflation," Krauth said. "It's still early in this trend, but once we have a few consecutive quarters of close to 2% inflation, I think the market will start to expect continuing rising inflation, making gold more attractive."
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