40 years on from gold standard, bugs crow
LONDON (Reuters) - Gold, and only gold, will be our salvation when the value of companies, banks, countries and even money itself melts away. Gold, not shifting currencies, is the foundation of wealth and security. Gold is back, for good.
This is the song of the "gold bugs" - the fervent fans of the precious metal who have clung to its investment value for three generations and now glow in the reflected luster of a record price approaching $2,000 for just one ounce.
Monday will mark the 40th anniversary of the United States' abandonment of the gold standard. But gold bugs kept the faith -- even when prices stayed under $500 for nearly 25 years after their 1981 peak.
Their passion derided, dismissed as hopelessly out dated doomsayers, their love for the metal seemed irrational.
The gold bug label itself goes back to master of the supernatural Edgar Allen Poe and his story of that name, a tale of golden beetle whose bite sends the hero to a chest of gold and jewels.
It reappeared as one of the first campaign buttons -- a brass bug sported by supporters of William McKinley in the bitter U.S. presidential election of 1896.
McKinley, the first presidential candidate to barnstorm across the nation, backed the gold standard against his Democratic opponent's proposal that it should be joined by silver in a fixed ratio. Loser William Bryan slipped into history but bimetallism lived on for a little in the think tanks of the day.
Fast forward and the financial crisis of 2008 has made gold the darling of investors from hedge funds to taxi drivers, and sparked a near-doubling of prices.
"Gold has been rising against all national currencies, and that's significant," James Turk, founder of bullion dealer Goldmoney, said.
"When there are problems with a national currency... people begin to worry about the value of their money, whether they're going to lose purchasing power because of inflation or other problems. As a consequence, they look for safe havens."
He was speaking as a true gold bug -- not in the dark days after Lehman Brothers' demise in 2008, nor in the depths of last year's euro zone debt crisis, nor after Standard & Poor's recent downgrade of the United States' top-notch credit rating.
Turk's view came in a BusinessWeek interview he gave in 2005, well in advance of the current financial crisis.
"My long-standing forecast, made in a Barron's interview in October 2003, is that $8,000 per ounce will be reached sometime between 2013-2015," he told Reuters this week.
"I've stayed with that forecast over the years and see no reason to change it."
The world's current financial woes are only going to get worse if current policies continue, he believes, meaning the rally in gold prices is unlikely to stop here.
"Politicians and central bankers are making decisions that debase national currencies, and the resulting bad monetary policies they are following are causing the gold price to rise," he said.
Gold's latest push to record highs has gone hand-in-hand with a plunge in Wall Street stocks to their lowest in nearly a year, while the dollar is languishing near multi-year lows.
Long-term gold bull David Beahm, vice president of marketing and economic research at New Orleans bullion dealer Blanchard and Co., says worries over the stability of the stock markets will be a key driver of higher gold prices.
"The best investment right now is gold," he said. "By diversifying one's portfolio with a negatively-correlated gold, investors can protect themselves from deep plunges in the equity market."
"There is no news in the market today or over the coming few months that is likely to stop the current gold bull market, as the fundamentals are firmly in place for gold to continue its rise," he says.
Traditional investment commentators have dismissed gold -- which, with no "intrinsic" value of its own, is only really as valuable as a buyer thinks it is -- as a classic bubble.
But those who have predicted its crash since it rose above $700 an ounce in 2006, on a simple "what goes up, must come down" analysis, have consistently been proved short-sighted.
Gold prices traded in a relatively narrow range from $250-420 an ounce for the whole of the 1990s. They have since more than quadrupled from that high, peaking at a record just below $1,800 an ounce earlier this week.
Their rise accelerated sharply from 2005 onwards, breaking through $1,000 an ounce in 2008 as the weaker dollar fueled demand for alternative stores of value.
Now gold bulls are predicting that prices, now around $1,750 an ounce, but still short of an inflation-adjusted high of nearly $2,500 in 1980, could climb even higher.
"I believe the price of gold will rise irregularly over the next several years, possibly reaching $1,850 an ounce by the end of this year, breaking above $2,000 in 2012, and possibly $3,000, $4,000, and even $5,000 in years to come," says Jeffrey Nichols, managing director of American Precious Metals Advisors and senior economic advisor to Rosland Capital.
"At the heart of this forecast is my observation (or belief) that the United States and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Europe have been living beyond our means for decades."
Back in 1896, losing presidential candidate Bryan's Cross of Gold speech turned the watching crowd into "a wild, raging irresistible mob," the New York Times reported.
Gold bugs, often accused of sensationalism, are finding their passion is becoming mainstream. "Raging" is probably no longer a suitable description of them. "Irresistible" is increasingly nearer the mark.
(Reporting by Jan Harvey, editing by William Hardy and Richard Mably)