As good as gold, but for whom?
“Bullion soars to fresh high” makes a fine headline, but whether it’s true depends on where you are. A holder in the euro zone who bought in January would be sitting on a 10 percent paper loss today. If Mrs Watanabe had started a gold accumulation plan early last year, it would buy her fewer yen today than she’s invested.
More recently, central banks’ enthusiasm for the printing press has spurred the buyers (to our fictional Mrs Watanabe’s relief) and for sterling investors gold has recovered to within 5 percent of the peak reached when the pound was plunging at the start of 2009. Bullion has multiplied four-fold since Gordon Brown, then UK Chancellor, unwittingly called the bottom of the market in 1998 by selling off much of Britain’s gold reserves.
It’s not only the European and Japanese holders of gold who are finding the bull run in the metal to be less profitable than the headlines suggest. Mining shares are lagging behind ebullient bullion, as this week’s new peak saw the prices of many of them fall back.
The falls imply that the professionals are cautious. The reported buying from retail investors might also suggest that the best of this bull run may be over, although not to the chart-watchers at Barclays, who conclude that “history suggests a run at $1,500.” Since there’s no future cash flow from holding bullion, nor any meaningful way to measure its “intrinsic” value, interpreting charts is probably as good a way to forecast as any other.
No investment can claim a long-term record that’s anything like as good as gold, but price spikes induced by panic buying have provided selling opportunities. The $850 summit in January 1980 is equivalent to $2,200 in today’s dollars, although the World Gold Council points out that smoothing through this one-day spike produces an equivalent of around $1,200 an ounce, not that far from today’s $1,048.
Gold tends to go down when money is tight, and up when conditions are easy. They have not been this easy for decades, at least, and having got this far down, the only way for interest rates is up. Gold is a great insurance policy against the collapse of fiat money, but even the biggest bears of the dollar do not expect its value to collapse. Still, you don’t buy insurance against the house burning down in anticipation of it doing so — you buy it to sleep soundly at night.