June 19, 2024

Prices Surge as Investors Rush to Safety of Gold

The prices of other precious metals, like silver and platinum, have also surged recently on what analysts call a flight to quality, when uncertainty about the economic and political outlook sends investors into assets that are perceived to be safest.

“We’re seeing a perfect storm for gold and silver prices,” said Robin Bhar, a senior metals analyst in London for the French bank Crédit Agricole.

The list of factors that have supported the price of precious metals in recent weeks is long. It includes worries about the sustainability of European debt levels and whether countries like Greece will soon default; the weaker dollar; rising inflation in many parts of the world; continued unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, which has also pushed up oil prices; and concern over the United States budget, which also stirred fear in world stock markets earlier in the week.

Stocks recovered somewhat Wednesday after strong earnings reports restored investor confidence, analysts said.

Other factors that are helping precious metals include the buildup to the early autumn wedding season in India, during which families lavish gifts of gold on brides; the longstanding shortage of skilled labor and equipment at certain mines; and the increase in the number of mutual funds investing in gold.

The recent popularity of gold-based exchange-traded funds has also propelled prices of the underlying metal by making it easier for more investors to trade in gold.

Each share in a gold exchange-traded fund represents part of an ounce of bullion, but it comes without the inconvenience of holding the metal or the risk of buying futures and options. Before such funds became popular in the middle of the last decade, individuals who wanted to invest in gold had to buy gold jewelry, coins or bullion — and pay the high security and transaction costs. They could also invest in the shares of gold mining companies — more of an arm’s-length exercise — although the cost of investing in those companies has also risen recently.

In addition to benefiting from increased demand for the underlying metal, gold and silver futures contracts are seen as attractive substitutes for paper investments, given that they can be redeemed for a physical commodity.

“Gold is sometimes a currency, sometimes a commodity and sometimes a store of value,” analysts at Merrill Lynch wrote recently.

Gold for June delivery rose as high as $1,506.50 a troy ounce during trading in New York on Wednesday before settling at $1,498.90, a gain of $3.80 on the day. It was the first time that gold had breached the $1,500 level.

While that represented the highest level in nominal terms, the inflation-adjusted price was higher during the early 1980s, when it was well above $2,000 in current dollars.

Silver prices also climbed on Wednesday. Silver for May delivery climbed 1.2 percent, to $44.46 a troy ounce in New York, after rising as high as $45.40, the highest price since 1980. A troy ounce is 31.1 grams, or 1.1 ounces.

Although gold prices are likely to remain volatile and are vulnerable to retreat as investors take profits on their gains, few analysts are willing to bet on a sharp reversal in the near term. “As the purchasing power of workers in emerging markets increases, we see demand for gold as a commodity increasing over the next few years,” the Merrill Lynch report said.

In a research note published Friday, Goldman Sachs forecast a gold futures price of $1,690 an ounce in 12 months’ time, driven primarily by the assumption that the Federal Reserve’s continued stimulus policy, known as quantitative easing, would keep interest rates low in the United States, bolstering demand for the metal as an investment.

The market for silver, which Mr. Bhar of Crédit Agricole described as a “poor man’s gold,” is far more illiquid than gold. Mr. Bhar said several hedge funds appeared to have been “bullying” the price higher in recent sessions. Prices of palladium and platinum have also climbed.

Less valuable base metals like copper, tin, aluminum and zinc, which are used in large quantities in construction and heavy industries, have also climbed since last year, after plummeting during the financial crisis.

But among these commodities, there have been more divergences, according to Jim Lennon, head of commodity research in London for Macquarie Securities.

Markets for commodities like coking coal, used to make steel, iron ore and copper have been tight, he said, driven by inventory accumulation from producers and concerns about output bottlenecks at mines in Africa, Australia, Brazil, Chile and China.

For other base metals like aluminum, zinc and nickel, supply and demand appear better matched, he added.

Overhanging many of these markets remained the question of China, and whether its roaring economy might soon cool down. Many metals’ traders and analysts have had to become China watchers, poring over the economic data issued by that country and studying accumulations of stocks in Chinese warehouses. During the first quarter, China’s economy expanded 9.7 percent from a year earlier.

Investment and consumer spending in China have remained robust despite the government’s effort to temper growth through interest rate increases and curbs on bank lending.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/21/business/global/21gold.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Speak Your Mind