Peter Tasker: Cash out of gold and send kids to college
Comment of the Day

August 07 2012

Commentary by David Fuller

Peter Tasker: Cash out of gold and send kids to college

My thanks to a colleague for this interesting guest column (will require subscription registration, PDF also provided), published by the Financial Times today. Here is the opening:
Just like the non-barking dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, the gold price has become strangely insensitive to the usual stimuli.

The eurozone remains locked in an existential crisis. Growth is fading in the US and China, and policy makers appear conflicted or just plain clueless about how to respond. Meanwhile, losses and scandals at large banks are coming to light weekly.

Unsurprisingly, investors are running scared. The global flight to safety has seen capital flood into "core" sovereign bond markets, driving yields down almost to vanishing point.

Yet, despite this perfect storm of financial instability, the gold price remains becalmed. In fact, over the past year gold bullion has behaved like a "risk on" asset, rising and falling in sync with stock markets.


Gold does not rise to these giddy heights by accident. A bull market of this scale requires widespread distrust of other financial assets, of the banking system, of capitalism itself. This was the case in the late 1970s, when Soviet expansionism and the bitter aftermath of the Vietnam war bred a growing pessimism about the future. When gold peaked in 1981, both equities and bonds were cheap by historical standards, having endured long grinding bear markets.

There are similarities in today's political and financial landscape, but also some important differences. Bonds are expensive. If Sidney Homer's History of Interest Rates is any guide, long-term interest rates are as low as they have been since Babylonian times. Meanwhile, we are twelve years into a global bear market in equities, but the US market, the world's largest, is not cheap on such long-term measures as the Shiller price/earnings ratio and neither are the most popular of the emerging markets.

So where is the haven that offers protection against the turbulence of markets? Guess what: there isn't one. Everything has become somebody's idea of an asset class, from dodgy modern art to the copper that burglars strip from church roofs. Everything carries some risk of loss.

David Fuller's view I imagine that Peter Tasker enjoyed writing this, knowing that it would generate some heated debate, which you can also see on the FT's website. Bravely, he has also led with his chin and many will be wondering if his column will prove to be a timely contrary indicator.

Peter Tasker is right to point out that there is no assured safe haven. Safety, in terms of protecting one's capital, is transient and determined by fashion.

The point about gold is that it remains 'hard money' and will therefore endure, maintaining its purchasing power over the longer term against all fiat currencies, just as it has for centuries.

The really interesting point about gold at this time concerns its secular trend consistency following overextensions relative to its mean, approximated by the 200-day moving average. Having become overextended in August and September 2011, and fallen back as we have seen on previous occasions, will gold now recover once again and resume its overall upward trend in 2013? We are about to find out.

(See also My Personal Portfolio below.)

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