Friday, September 24, 2010

The Gold Bubble

Vahan Janjigian issued the following commentary on Sept. 24 in a Special Report to subscribers of the Forbes Special Situation Survey.

Although our focus at the Forbes Special Situation Survey is equities, we can’t help but notice the extremely strong bull market in gold. In our opinion, however, gold prices have gone up much too high. Like equities in 2000 and housing in 2006, we are concerned that gold will be the next bubble to burst.

Historically, gold has been considered a safe haven. Investors often hoard gold and other precious metals when they are concerned about the economy or the value of paper currencies. Since global economies have been shaken to the core and are still teetering, a run up in the price of gold makes perfect sense. However, it is the extent of the run up that concerns us. In early 2007, before the financial crisis hit, gold was selling for less than $700 per ounce. Today, it broke above $1,300 per ounce for the first time.

Although gold does have some industrial applications, the strength in its price has nothing to do with increased demand. Furthermore, gold’s primary use is in jewelry and demand there is actually down. So investors are clearly buying this precious metal out of fear. They are afraid that the Fed and the Treasury are not on the right path to restoring the health of the economy. They are also afraid that the U.S. dollar will lose even more of its value if the Fed actually embarks on another round of quantitative easing (i.e., the so-called QE II).

We agree that the government has made considerable mistakes in trying to stimulate the economy. Nonetheless, we believe that gold prices have surged too high. The stock market is up almost 70% from its March 2009 low, yet gold has rallied about 40% during the same period. This positive correlation is historically unusual. Furthermore, the Fed will eventually have to ease up on its efforts to stimulate the economy. When the Fed begins to reverse course, gold prices could tumble dramatically.

One thing we have learned over the years is that a bubble can get much bigger before it pops. Therefore, it is entirely possible that gold prices could go much higher. Momentum investors might want to go along for the ride. However, while we agree that gold should be a core holding in most portfolios, we suggest that at this time it makes more sense to pare back on your exposure to gold. Those who have more guts might even want to take a short position against the metal. The proliferation of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on the market makes shorting gold relatively easy. Some ETFs that short gold include GLL, DZZ, and DGZ. However, we strongly urge you to carefully research these and any other financial instruments before you execute a trade. ETFs sometimes use a significant amount of leverage. This could cause you to lose much more money than you might have anticipated if gold prices continue to rise.