The year 2017 will be remembered as a solid but quiet year for the precious metals markets. While 2016 contained some surprise periods of volatility – like Brexit and the Presidential election – this past year has been a smooth and upwardly trending year. All four major precious metals are on track to post gains for 2017, but these advances have come at a measured pace. Aside perhaps from palladium (which is up an impressive 45% YTD) the rise in precious metals prices has been slow and steady.

With that being said, we see five reasons why 2018 could be very different. While we have no crystal ball, numerous triggers exist for a precious metals rally. For every factor keeping bullion prices under pressure, we see multiple forces that could push prices upward. Here are five situations that could spark a bull market in precious metals:

1. Drop in U.S. Dollar: Precious metals have long served as a hedge against fiat currency. In particular, there are numerous reasons why the U.S. Dollar could be under pressure. Inflation and diminishing purchasing power isn’t the only issue; America’s massive debt load and political turmoil could hurt the greenback’s value. Should a gridlocked Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling and default – or print its way out of a default – the U.S. Dollar will see a massive slide in value.

2. Correction in Stock & Real Estate Markets: If there’s one reason why bullion has been so quiet in 2017, the stock and real estate markets are the primary culprit. As values have soared, countless individual and institutional investors have jumped on the bandwagon. Buyers don’t seem worried about valuations today, but should the markets stumble and correct, investors could flee to safer options. 

3. Increase in Physical Demand: Both in the U.S. and abroad, physical precious metals demand has been unusually weak lately. While decent industrial demand has kept palladium strong, traditional investor and jewelry orders have been weak for the other metals. The largest markets (e.g. the USA, India and China) have been extraordinarily quiet all at once. Even if just one of these markets rebounds, this could have a positive impact on metals prices.

4. Lower Interest Rates: The Federal Reserve hints at raising rates in the future, but any signs of economic shakiness could force them to reverse course. Even a refusal to raise rates would be extremely bullish for metals. Some argue that the Fed can’t raise rates in any economic environment, as the national debt cannot be serviced (let along paid off!) at higher rates.

5. Collapse of Cryptocurrency: Admittedly, there’s been industry chatter about whether Bitcoin and its brethren have stolen some thunder from hard assets. After all, much like gold and silver, cryptocurrencies supposedly offer an alternative to the U.S. Dollar. If these digital assets tumble in price, such an event will remind investors to buy tangible units of value with sound, reliable value.

This list is by no means complete; there are many other situations worth mentioning (foreign debt defaults, a potential student loan crisis, et al). However, these five issues stand out in our minds as major potential triggers for a 2018 metals rally. As this year draws to a close, we encourage you to evaluate your portfolio and prepare for a wide variety of scenarios. While it’s impossible to predict the future, it is possible to plan, strategize and protect yourself.