Precious metal prices slipped on Friday as day traders were forced to sell gold, silver, platinum and palladium positions in the face of the worst week for stock markets since the 2008/09 financial crisis.

Gold fell 6.29% from Monday’s all-time record of £1,308.73 per ounce down to £1,226.34 as investors took advantage of gold’s strong demand and high value to cover losses. Silver lost 12.49% in the sale, while platinum lost 15.11% and palladium lost 13.15%.

Why the gold sale?

Given gold’s safe haven status, many people might be confused as to why gold’s price dropped so sharply on Friday. The answer however is simple – margin calls. These are requests from brokers that an investor gives them additional cash (or other securities) to protect against losses. The losses in this case were from the stock market rout, and gold – at record highs in Pound Sterling and Euros – became a victim of its own success and a valuable asset to liquidate.

Bloomberg reported that “Gold investors don’t want to sell but are forced to cover the losses in other asset classes”, with the amount of margin calls issued causing the biggest single-day drop in the gold price for seven years.

Market losses

Last Monday’s surge in gold demand followed negative stock market reactions to the latest outbreaks of coronavirus reaching Italy and the inevitability of more cases across the continent. The FTSE 100 lost 13% through the week, the Eurozone Stoxx 600 lost 12.7%, while in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 9.6% and China’s Shanghai Composite lost 4.98%.

In the US the tech-focused Nasdaq lost 10.5%, the Dow Jones fell 12.4%, and the S&P 500 lost 11.5% - the worst week for the latter two indexes since the 2008/09 financial crisis. CNBC reported that the market losses in the US had set a record for the fastest correction (10% drop) from an all-time high index value ever. Stock market corrections aren’t uncommon, nor was this entirely surprising, but the pace of the losses shocked many investors – a shock which in turn forced them into selling other assets to cover losses.

Will gold bounce back?

Despite the hurry to sell, safe haven demand is still strong and precious metal popularity remains. Prices for all four metals have since recovered a third of their losses this morning following a press release from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) who have now revised global growth down from 2.9% GDP to 2.4%, with the UK down to just 0.8% growth for 2020.

The previously mentioned margin calls were a precautionary measure given the pace of Friday’s stock losses, but gold demand is still present and so is the Covid-19 virus. The coronavirus has now killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, and while containment efforts are evident, globalisation makes restricting movement a challenge – even with public transport and flights halted.

Safe havens are meant to be a fall-back asset, with historical negative correlation to traditional assets like stocks and shares. They are typically a longer-term investment, though economic downturn and instability in the past two years has helped drive prices up to record levels. Volatility isn’t uncommon however, and the latest sales don’t alter the fact that the gold price is within £50 of the all-time Sterling record per ounce.