The Curious Case of Paper & Physical Gold

Focus: COMMODITIES

Paper gold refers to a futures contract, not the actual yellow metal, and Keith Weiner of SafeHaven.com notes how their prices march in lockstep, but not exactly, which could inspire a trade.

It's curious, isn't it? So-called "paper gold" (a futures contract) has a price that is not only very close to physical gold, but it remains locked to it. This is despite the fact that "paper gold" is reviled in the gold community.

I am writing this on Sunday evening with little liquidity in the market, and yet spot gold (XAU) is 1665.80 and the December future (GC Z3) is 1674.40. There is a small positive spread, about 0.5%, between spot and future. This spread is remarkably consistent from day to day. If spot gold goes down 1.2% then the December future and the other months as well, go down by almost exactly 1.2%.

It's worth underscoring that these are different prices for different things in different markets. "Paper gold" is not physical metal! If there weren't some force that kept their prices locked together, they would detach and one could rise while the other falls, or vice versa. This is not, in fact, how they behave. They remain locked (at least for the time being). Why? What is this mysterious force that binds them tightly together?

Let's take a step back for a moment. The futures market exists to serve the needs of producers and consumers.