Lai See

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 June, 2011, 12:00am


Glitter of gold likely to shine a lot longer

Can gold really hit US$5,000 per ounce? That was the question panellists at the Standard Chartered Earth's Resources Conference were pondering yesterday.

Although most of them were gold miners, who are never backward in promoting their product, they were surprisingly cagey. All agreed that demand was strong and supply weak, though they fretted over rising costs and declining yields. Gold accounted for 50 per cent of commodity exploration costs, but 2 per cent of production is the result and the precious metal is difficult to find. Algy Cluff, chairman of Cluff Gold, agreed that the price would rise, but reflected darkly on the metal's many 'enemies'.

Central banks were not fans of a rising gold price since it suggested they were not doing their jobs properly, he said, by which we assume he was alluding to currency weakness. Also, he felt there was growing intolerance of vast amounts of money being made from takeovers 'when a shed load of money passes from one side of Toronto to the other', while little of this largesse is seen in places like Africa, for example, where the mine is located. He warned that governments would become increasingly intrusive in extracting more revenues.

So will gold hit US$5,000 per ounce? 'Absolutely,' according to one panellist, but over 10 to 15 years. He said gold would rise in line with increasing incomes in China and India, while another pointed to the correlation between gold prices and global money supply. The audience seemed somewhat less bullish than the panellists.

Asked which would be the best performing asset over the next year, 55 per cent said gold, 34 per cent soft commodities, 6 per cent voted for Hong Kong property and 6 per cent for US Treasuries. Despite this, only 22 per cent of the audience held physical gold, and 69 per cent believed that the highest price gold would hit in the current cycle was US$2,000 per ounce. That is some way off US$5,000, but few, if anyone, believed five years ago that gold prices would triple.

In the democratic danger zone

Renaissance Capital has produced an attention-grabbing report which says that China will become a democracy by 2017, that is, in a mere five-and-a-half years. This is good, but rather surprising news. Many will be sceptical. 'Political risk can be measured. Revolutions can be predicted,' said Charles Robertson, Renaissance Capital's global chief economist and the report's lead author.

The key indicator, says Renaissance, is per capita gross domestic product. No democracy has 'died' in a country with a per capita GDP of US$10,000 in 2005 purchasing power parity dollars. Even democracies above US$6,000 have a 99 per cent survival rate. Determining the tipping point from autocracy to democracy appears less straightforward. The report says, the danger period for autocracies is between US$6,000 and US$10,000, when the risk of regime change rises to 6.4 per cent.

Like Tunisia, China has entered a most dangerous political period, with per capita GDP at US$6,200 in 2009. Even assuming 9 per cent per annum growth in per capita GDP, the country will remain in the most dangerous US$6,000 to US$10,000 range until 2014. But Taiwan did not achieve democratisation until its per capita GDP reached US$15,350. Mainland China will reach this level in 2017. 'The Communist Party of China is right to fear a revolution, and history suggests it will be lucky to avoid democracy by 2017, assuming per capita GDP has reached US$15,550 by then,' says Renaissance. Lai See believes the best we can hope for is democracy with Chinese characteristics.

What counts in the mating game

A flashy sports car may be fine for securing a date, but it won't help in the quest for a life partner. The reason for this is that women don't think sports car drivers indicate good marriage material, says a recent report by researchers from Texas and Minnesota. This team surveyed nearly 1,000 people to reveal the signals sent out by spending behaviour. It found that men use spending on luxury items as a short-term mating signal. Women, you will be unsurprised to learn, don't spend to attract the opposite sex, says the report, which has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. For those intent on remaining single, you could say this represents a win-win situation.


Yesterday, we inadvertently misreported the name of the sponsor for the corporate golf league. It should be Ageas and not Aegis. One of the problems of ageing.