Opinion

James Saft

Triumph of gold, the anti-investment

Apr 21, 2011 12:23 UTC

In investing, extreme behavior is becoming more mainstream every day.

How else can we interpret the extraordinary moves by the University of Texas’ endowment fund to not only buy nearly $1 billion of gold, equal to about 5 percent of its assets, but to insist on taking physical delivery of the precious metal.

Things really have come to an interesting juncture when the second-largest academic endowment in the U.S., managed and advised by sober, rational people, decides that what they need is insurance against getting, in essence, robbed, via inflation, by fiscal and monetary policy.

Little wonder that gold futures went above $1,500 per ounce for the first time on Wednesday, driven by a laundry list of concerns starting with a falling dollar and not ending with the growing chance of “debt restructuring” (well, default, if you insist) by Greece.

“The role gold plays in our portfolio is as a hedge against currencies. The concern is that we have excess monetary and fiscal stimulus,” Bruce Zimmerman, chief executive officer of The University of Texas Investment Management Company told CNBC television.

While Zimmerman said it was easier and more economical for the fund to physically accept the gold, which it is paying to store in a vault presumably deep below the sidewalks of New York, rather than the more usual route of buying a derivative contract, the move also must reflect concern about the risk of those contracts not being honored. To that extent the investment is not only protection against inflation and currency risk, but against market failure as well.

3 numbers spell danger: $100, 3.44, 20

Feb 24, 2011 13:13 UTC

If you think the recovery is firm and the risk of deflation has vanished, look at the three following numbers: $100, 3.44 and 20.

The first, everyone knows, is the price that New York crude oil touched briefly on Wednesday, driven 14 percent higher in just five trading sessions by conflict in Libya and concern over the reliability of supply elsewhere.

The second is the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes, and if you are keeping score, they have dropped a rapid 28 basis points from early February, a drop that is telling you that bond investors do not believe the U.S. economy can easily withstand $100 oil.

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