"Few silver linings when gold bubble bursts"
By Mark Williams, October 17 2010
Beware of bubbles. Tulips, the dotcom boom and pre-credit crunch real estate have a lot in common; they are assets that were in vogue, became overbought and eventually fell to earth. And now it’s gold.
Historically, two-thirds of gold demand comes from the jewellery industry and from countries like India and China. The remaining demand is generated by investors, manufacturing and the dental industry. But over the last four years, gold has staged a spectacular price rise and won many new investors. Everyone from hedge funds to individuals has jumped in, seeing gold as a way to improve portfolio diversification. Today portfolios often allocate 5 per cent or more to gold. A decade ago such an allocation in sound investment circles would have been heresy.
Market dynamics have changed too, with investors playing a larger part in what is driving prices higher. Now private investors hold over 30,000 tons of gold, more than the entire holdings of all the central banks on the planet. In short, gold fever has arrived on both Wall Street and Main Street. But all fevers eventually break.
The 2010 gold bubble is fuelled by a combination of five main factors: historically cheap cost of borrowing, a prolonged bull market, early profiteers, marketing hype and the risk being ignored. Investors claim that the current market high of $1,380 an ounce is not overpriced, but a reflection of global economic uncertainty, high unemployment and a decline in currency values. Gold is acting, as it should, as a hedge.
Investors also point to the 1980 bubble, when gold peaked at $850 an ounce and plummeted by 60 per cent in one year, as an aberration. Inflation was then over 13 per cent and short-term interest rates were above 16 per cent. Today none of this exists. Gold enthusiasts note the 1980 pre-bust price in today’s dollars and say gold must climb to $2,100 before hitting such dangerous levels. But such logic is flawed in that it assumes that 1980 is a good benchmark for the future. Ignored is the 20-year period from 1980 to 2000 when money invested in gold was dead money.
Today price is increasingly being determined by investors’ insatiable appetite for gold. But what happens when the shine wears off? It is always tricky to know when a bubble is set to burst, although price and investor sentiment can sometimes help to cut through this fog. And investor demand has now reached mania levels. In early October the Daily Sentiment Index of futures traders indicated that while only 3 per cent were bullish on the US dollar, 95 per cent were bullish on gold. When everyone in the market is on the starboard side of the boat, you should watch out.
Despite their human origins, most bubbles are not easily spotted until it is too late. The dotcom bubble took four years to burst; the real estate bubble six. The last speculative gold bubble, in 1980, took four years to implode, while this latest reincarnation is seven years in the making. This bubble will likely be pricked only when economic outlooks improve and unemployment figures in countries like the US drop below 8 per cent. This might come in 2011, but it could take much longer.
Unlike previous asset bubbles gold is a tiny fraction of total global investment capital. When the bubble pops, it will represent less than 2 per cent of the world’s total. Those most hurt will be the investors who are the last ones out. These tend to be the smaller investors – just as in the real estate bubble, those who can least afford to lose. However, in the aftermath of the credit crunch we have entered into an era in which global systemic risk is high and unpredictable. Even small events, seemingly unrelated, can trigger larger financial events.
If there is a silver lining to this bubble, when it does go bust, and gold prices plummet, it will be a sign that the global economy has snapped back from economic chaos to prosperity. This will signal job growth, stable currencies, a stop to US Federal Reserve quantitative easing. Then there will be little reason to own gold. In the end, speculators will relearn an age-old lesson: gold in times of financial stability is hazardous to investor health. Like tulips, it is pretty to the eye but does not provide lasting sustenance.
The writer teaches finance at Boston University School of Management and is author of Uncontrolled Risk: The Lessons of Lehman Brothers and How Systemic Risk Can Still Bring Down the World Financial System
- 英Guradian紙 「金の自動販売機が登場」 その場で250gまで購入可能 びぼ 2010/10/21 22:34:22