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Does financial and macro policy explain household investment in gold?

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by Renuka Sane and Manish Kumar Singh.

Gold plays a significant role in the portfolio of Indian households. Several explanations have been offered: gold is an important source of credit, it matters for socio-cultural and political reasons, provides women with agency as women are likely to have more control over the gold they own relative to financial assets. Research has, however, not paid adequate attention to the performance of gold as an asset class. Investment in gold is often brushed aside as irrational based on the evidence that gold has delivered near zero real returns (in USD) over a 100 year period (Siegel, 2014). In a new working paper, Sane and Singh (2022): “Does financial and macro policy explain household investment in gold?” we argue that investments in gold have to be seen in the context of Indian financial markets which make gold a far more sensible investment that international research would suggest.

Indian financial markets

Household saving is a function of the financial environment within which the household operates. The following characteristics of Indian markets are worth noting:

  1. High inflation: India adopted a formal inflation target of 4 per cent within a band of +/- 2 per cent in August 2016. Before this, high levels and volatility of inflation had been a persistent problem in India. The average inflation in the four years prior to inflation targeting was around 7.26% – this dropped to 4.19% after the adoption of the framework (Patnaik & Pandey, 2020). When there is such high and persistent inflation, households will naturally look for instruments which are able to, at the very least, beat inflation, even if not provide a complete hedge.

  2. Interest rate management: India has consistently followed a policy of managing long-term interest rates on government borrowings. This has led to an environment of low interest rates for government borrowing, and has prevented long-term yields from rising. Interest rates on fixed deposits which are benchmarked to long-term government yield is also relatively low and have been consistently falling over the 1999-2021 period from an interest of 9-10% to about 4%.

  3. Volatility in equity markets: Emerging markets are generally more volatile than markets in OECD countries. The annualised 10 year standard deviation on the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was around 17%, while that of the MSCI World Index (based on large and mid cap representation across 23 Developed Markets (DM)) was around 13%. An asset that serves as a hedge assumes greater importance in emerging markets relative to developed markets.

  4. Capital controls: One way to hedge a portfolio is to diversify across different markets. However, this has been difficult in India, owing to a complex framework of restrictions on the current and capital account till the year 2000. In 2000, the current account was made fully convertible, and a modified framework for capital controls was put in place (Patnaik & Shah, 2012). There continue to be restrictions, on both the current and capital account, which differ depending on the type of investor, and the assets in question.

  5. Currency interventions: Patnaik & Sengupta (2021) study RBI interventions and find that when there has been pressure on the rupee to appreciate, the RBI has responded by intervening in the forex market and buying dollars. When, in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, there was pressure on the rupee to depreciate, the RBI allowed the rupee to fluctuate in this period. Indian investors, therefore, benefit from a larger depreciation of the rupee for those assets where the price is determined in international markets.

High inflation levels and volatility, low interest rates on account of financial repression, inability to invest in international markets until very recently, depreciation of the rupee have a bearing on the choices that are available to households. Financial repression changes the risk-return trade-off between fixed deposits and gold. Similarly in an environment where individuals are restricted from investing in overseas markets, gold offers a way for doing international diversification. These become important considerations as we evaluate the performance of gold vis-a-vis the Indian equity market.

How does gold fare?

We use data from June 1999-March 2021 and find that:

  1. In the last 20 years, real returns on gold have always been positive.

  2. Apart from a few years around 2018, gold has consistently beaten returns on fixed deposits.

  3. RBI interventions in the currency market changes the dynamics of gold return for Indian households. Our regression estimates suggest that if the Indian rupee depreciated against the U.S. dollar by 10% in a month, then the gold price in Indian rupees increased on average about 3.63%. While the exchange rate pass-through is far from complete, it implies that currency interventions by the Reserve Bank of India have implications for the gold price that is seen by Indian investors.

  4. Gold and NIFTY seem to have moved together till about 2008, after which NIFTY saw a sharp fall, while gold continued with its upward trajectory. The two asset classes moved together again till about 2014, and then from 2015 till early 2020. There seems to be a divergence in the series around 2014, when NIFTY was rising steadily while gold prices fell before rising again. Gold is a strong hedge against the NIFTY when measured in daily frequency. In the last 10 years, this relationship had become stronger.

  5. The global minimum variance portfolio which only includes gold and NIFTY suggests a 63% weight to gold for target annual return of about 13%. As the target return increases, we see that the weight allocated to gold drops to about 3%. When one does a similar optimisation exercise including the S&P 500 returns, the global minimum variance portfolio suggests a weight of 46.5% for gold, 31.3% for NIFTY and 22.2% for SPX. Once international diversification is possible, the weight of gold has fallen by almost 16 percentage points. The confidence intervals, however, on these estimates are wide given the paucity of longer time-series data on returns.


Gold has provided the means to Indian households to overcome the difficulties associated with high inflation in a financially repressed macroeconomic environment with capital controls. Given the performance of gold, fixed deposits and NIFTY, and the difficulties of international diversification households have not been entirely unreasonable to hold gold in their portfolios. If policy has to channel household savings to more productive uses, it has to confront the underlying issues in the macroeconomic environment which make gold a preferred investment choice.


Patnaik, I. & Pandey, R. (2020). Four years of the inflation targeting framework. NIPFP Working Paper Series, No 325.

Patnaik, I. & Sengupta, R. (2021). Analysing India’s exchange rate regime. India Policy Forum (forthcoming).

Patnaik, I. & Shah, A. (2012). Did the Indian capital controls work as a tool of macroeconomic policy? IMF Economic Review, 60, 439-464.

Sane, R. & Singh, M. (2022). Does financial and macro policy explain household investment in gold?, Dvara Research Working Paper Series No. WP-2022-01.

Siegel, J. J. (2014). Stocks for the long run: The definitive guide to financial market returns and long-term investment strategies. McGraw Hill.

Renuka Sane is a researcher at NIPFP, New Delhi. Manish Kumar Singh is a researcher at IIT Roorkee.


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