Some "gold bugs" think that our current and worsening problems will cause a very significant flight to the historic preserver of wealth - in my previous post I link to one who predicts $50,000 per ounce (in real terms, apparently). I find it hard to believe that you will be able to buy a 3-bed semi in Birmingham for a handful of gold weighing little more than a packet of winegums.
But the total private and public debt in the USA is now far higher than before the Crash of 1929, and similar problems affect us here in the UK and across much of Europe. In today's Daily Mail, Peter Oborne (not normally an alarmist commentator) discusses the danger of a return of recession and of the Euro collapsing, and the risks of depositing more than £50,000 with any one bank, especially Santander and its subsidiary Abbey National. Against such a background, we could see a scramble into anything that offers a secure nest for our savings.
On the internet, "Jesse" (to all appearances a technically expert and sober-minded investor) is bullish on gold without going quite as far as the most excited of the gold bugs:
Gold has been gaining, on average about 70% every three years. So what is the end point?
Just for grins, I would expect gold to hit $6,300 near the end of this steady bull run, but will the bull market will end in a parabolic intra-month spike towards $10,000. This is likely to occur around 2018-2020.
Three points I'd make:
1. There is something like 100 ounces of gold "on paper" for every ounce of gold you can hold in your hand. I now often see online comments recommending the possession of physical gold because of concerns over delivery on all those paper promises. This then gives you the challenge of getting it and storing it safely, plus being taxed on gains if it appreciates; and remember that President Roosevelt confiscated gold from private investors in 1933. (UPDATE: Note that Saudi Arabia revealed this week that it is sitting on twice as much gold as we previously thought.)
2. There are other assets that have intrinsic value - farmland, houses etc - and even if they may lose some wealth, they won't lose it all. The billionaire Duke of Westminster is in no hurry to get rid of his properties in London's Mayfair and Belgravia, the foundation of the family fortune established when Sir Thomas Grosvenor married heiress Mary Davies in 1677, so acquiring 500 acres of then-rural land near the capital.
3. If you're looking to preserve what you have, rather than beat someone else in the investment game and take their stake, there is a government-backed product designed to achieve this: the NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certificate. We can argue about what is the correct measure of inflation, and if the Russians invade all British government promises are void*; but otherwise it's a safe bet and all you have to do is give up some spending now to have its true worth again later on.
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*It's how my mother's family lost their farm in East Prussia, now a heavily-militarised sliver of Russian Federation land with access to the vital open-in-winter Baltic seaport of Kaliningrad. The Russkies threatened to base missiles there in 2008 in a Cuban Crisis-style response to US plans for missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Perhaps some wealth in portable form wouldn't be a bad idea, after all - it would certainly have helped my family on their flight westwards.