Leading Gold Bugs See Prices Tripling Someday, But Others Say its Current Level Is About Right
Gold bullion just crossed $1,000 an ounce. But what’s it really worth?
Bud Conrad, chief economist at Casey Research and a leading gold bug, says it’s worth far more. Based on long-term analyses of macroeconomic trends such as the money supply, he says, “a lot of ratiosâ€¦ get you into the $4,000 to $5,000 level without any problem.
Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paulâ€”also a major gold bugâ€”likewise sees the price of bullion rising from today’s levels. “It’s trebled in the last ten years,” he says. “There’s no reason it can’t triple in another ten years, that wouldn’t surprise me.” Congressman Paul says the government will erode the dollar’s purchasing power, so gold will gain valueâ€”however, he says this is a political opinion, and not investing advice.
Is it realistic to think gold could really go to $3,000?
A long-standing rule of thumb among gold enthusiasts is that an ounce of gold should equal the cost of one high-quality man’s suit. (A fund manager I know in London argues that this goes back to ancient Rome, when an ounce of goldâ€”allegedlyâ€”was enough to purchase a top-of-the-line toga.)
That wisdom isn’t particularly helpful today. At Saks Fifth Avenue you could pay $795 for a Hugo Boss suit, or $2,050 for Dior. When I last bought a suit on Savile Row in London some years back, it cost me about $1,200, but one could have spent a lot more.
Michael Narwani, a tailor and the owner of Custom Clothiers in Wellesley, Mass., says his bespoke suits vary from around $700 up to many thousands, but “$1,000 would buy you an excellent suit.” By that measure, gold would be about the right price now.
|A worker scoops gold shots at a factory in China. For investors, valuing gold is a puzzle.|
A silly debate? Maybe. But this is the central issue any investor faces when dealing with gold.
With stocks, you can look at the price-to-earnings ratio and the dividend yield and reach some conclusions about likely returns. With bonds, you can look at the yield to maturity, which includes both the coupons and any capital gains.
But gold generates no income. It is, in a sense, a perpetual zero coupon bond. So valuing it isn’t easy.
You can, at least, establish a threshold price. A rational person wouldn’t buy an ounce of gold for $1,008 today unless he or she was very confident it would be worth at least $1,500 or so in ten years’ time, and at least $2,400 in twenty years. (Otherwise, that person could earn the same amount simply by investing in Treasury bonds.)
Some months ago I suggested that gold could easily become the next bubble. Some people thought I was suggesting gold already was a bubble. Hardly: I would have to know what something was worth before I could conclude it was overvalued.
But there is potentialâ€”albeit uncertainâ€”for gold to go much higher. Led by the Fed, central banks world-wide have flooded financial systems with vast amounts of money in the year since Lehman Brothers failed. Those moves risk devaluations in the dollar, along with other paper currencies. Gold and other items in limited supply may well benefit.
The most bullish news for gold is that the public hasn’t gone crazy for it yet. Demand for gold coins and gold funds is certainly higher than it was a few years ago, but we’re a long way from speculative mania. Sales of the SPDR Gold Shares exchange-traded fund (GLD), the world’s largest bullion fund, have actually turned negative in recent months. And Financial Research Corp., a firm that tracks mutual fund sales, says the same holds true for funds across the gold sector.
On the other hand, though gold just crossed the big $1,000 barrier, a number of signs should give investors at least pause for thought. Canaccord Adams, the Canadian investment bank, says September is traditionally the strongest month for gold: October, by contrast, has historically been much weaker.
Meanwhile the insiders at the big gold mining companies are sitting on their hands. Research company Form 4 Oracle, which follows stock sales and purchases by company bosses, reports little insider buying at gold companies. By contrast they were heaving net buyers last fall, just before the big rebound.
And although gold looks bullish in dollars, that specifically reflects the greenback’s weaknessâ€”gold remains well below last winter’s peaks when priced in pounds, euros, yen, or Swiss francs.
Despite gold’s rise, the market is not, yet signaling any great concern about inflation. On the contrary, when you compare the yields on regular 10-year Treasury bonds and the yields on inflation-protected bonds, the market right now thinks inflation is likely to be about 2% a year for the next decade. That’s well below the levels seen before the 2008 crisis.
In short: Stay tuned. Gold may boom from here, or it may not. At this juncture dry powder may prove a better investment than yellow metal.