End of a long bullion run?

Gold has climbed in price for a record 12 years but market watchers are divided on just how much more shine it has as a hedge investment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 4:19am


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Danske Bank and Credit Suisse Group, the most-accurate gold forecasters, say prices will probably peak this year while their nearest rival, UniCredit, sees no end in sight to the 12-year bull market.

Gold would average US$1,720 an ounce this year and US$1,600 in 2014, said Christin Tuxen of Danske Bank in Copenhagen, who came closest to predicting moves in the past eight quarters, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Tom Kendall at Credit Suisse in London expects US$1,740 and US$1,720 and Jochen Hitzfeld of UniCredit in Munich predicts US$1,700 and US$1,800. Bullion has risen more than sixfold since the bull market began in 2001.

All three forecast record average prices this year because central-bank stimulus will sustain buying as a hedge against inflation and currency devaluation. Danske and Credit Suisse predict lower prices in 2014 as economic growth curbs demand for the metal as a protector of wealth while UniCredit says record-low interest rates will maintain gold's allure.

"Gold will definitely continue to rise but the euphoria has subsided," said Donald Selkin, the New York-based chief market strategist at National Securities, which manages about US$3 billion of assets, including gold. "The track record is great but this year it will take a breather."

Investors bought US$140.4 billion through exchange-traded products since gold's longest bull market in at least nine decades, creating a hoard bigger than the official reserves of all but two nations.

Prices have retreated for three successive months as Europe's debt crisis eased and faster growth from the US to China spurred speculation that central banks will pare back stimulus.

The metal dropped 0.2 per cent to US$1,672.80 in London this month after rising 7.1 per cent last year, the smallest advance in four years.

The Standard & Poor's GSCI gauge of 24 commodities has gained 1.2 per cent since the start of January and the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities added 3.1 per cent. A Bank of America index shows Treasuries lost 0.4 per cent.

The top six gold and precious-metals analysts tracked by Bloomberg remain bullish for this year, with a median forecast for prices to reach a record US$1,997.50 by December. Bloomberg tracks the predictions of 26 analysts.

Prices retreated to a four-month low on January 4 after Federal Reserve minutes showed some policymakers favoured ending US$85 billion in monthly bond purchases this year as the recovery gains traction.

The US will accelerate from the second quarter to the end of this year, economists' forecasts show. Gold surged 70 per cent as the Fed bought US$2.3 trillion of debt from December 2008 to June 2011.

"When the Fed stops easing and economic activity improves, that will weigh on gold," Tuxen said. "We'll start to see that being priced in in the second half."

Record-low interest rates and yields below the rate of inflation on sovereign debt might sustain demand for bullion, which generally only earns returns for investors through price gains.

The Fed said rates would stay close to zero as long as unemployment remained above 6.5 per cent and inflation projections were for no more than 2.5 per cent.

The jobless rate held at 7.8 per cent last month and consumer prices gained 1.8 per cent in November from a year earlier. The European Central Bank held rates at an all-time low of 0.75 per cent on January 10.

"The most important factor is negative real interest rates and we see no end in sight there for the next couple of years," Hitzfeld said.

"What is dangerous is if key interest rates rise above the inflation rate, but this isn't anywhere in sight."

There are no signs that the biggest investors are selling bullion. Soros Fund Management, founded by the billionaire George Soros, raised its stake in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest gold ETP, by 49 per cent in the third quarter to US$213 million, US Securities and Exchange Commission filings show.

Paulson & Co remained the biggest shareholder, with a stake now valued at US$3.52 billion. John Paulson bet against the subprime mortgage market, becoming a billionaire in 2007.

Global ETP holdings stand at 2,620 tonnes, about 0.5 per cent below the record set on December 20, data shows. Since the first product was created by Graham Tuckwell and listed in Australia in 2003, the asset class accumulated more metal than the country's mines produced in a decade. Only the US and Germany hold more in official reserves.