Experts split over gold crash but Kiwis not spooked

Is the precious metal starting to lose its glitter as a safe investment?

A question many investors have been unwilling to entertain is now looming large in their thinking.

Is the price of gold about to take a major tumble, thanks in part to rising economic optimism in the US and a painfully slow but stuttering recovery in the eurozone?

Money managers worldwide are divided on the issue, but there is a growing belief gold’s spectacular 12-year bull run could soon be over.

The price of the precious metal is already down around 5% this year to $US1606 an ounce, well short of  the record price of $US1921 an ounce in September 2011.

In New Zealand there are also conflicting views about where the price is heading.

New Zealand Mint chief executive Simon Harding told NBR ONLINE  “picking the future is always a dodgy business”.

“At the moment, there are two strong camps with extreme views.

“You’ve got those saying gold will break $US2000 an ounce this year and you have got those saying the party is over.”

So which camp does New Zealand sit in?

“We sell millions of dollars of gold every month and there’s still an appetite for it in New Zealand, driven in part by our immigrant population,” Mr Harding says.

“We also have a significant number of overseas customers who not only want gold but they want gold in New Zealand.

“They deliberately seek out New Zealand as a safe haven because of our political stability, absence of capital gains tax and a perception of a business environment with little corruption.

“We literally have clients in the United States and other parts of the world who will essentially pay a premium to buy and store gold here.”

So clearly not everyone is paying much attention to the legendary Warren Buffet, who has long shunned gold.

“You can fondle it, you can polish it, you can stare at it,” he says.

“But I’d bet on a good producing business to outperform something that doesn’t do anything.”

Even billionaire investor George Soros is getting the jitters and reducing his exposure to the metal.

Two years ago he reportedly called gold “the ultimate asset bubble” – an indication, perhaps, that he sees the bubble bursting some time soon.

Despite all the uncertainty, gold producers remain upbeat about their product.

Newcrest Mining, which is Australia’s largest gold producer, says prices will “stay strong” in the medium term as a result of supply constraints and the metal’s appeal as a safe haven.

This week CEO Greg Robinson told a Hong Kong news conference the metal may trade between $US1500 and $US2000 an ounce this year.

“If I look at the preconditions for the gold price in the medium term, I think about monetary supply, currency devaluation, interest rates, inflation, and political and economic drivers.

“I’m confident about the gold price – I expect it to stay strong for the medium term.”

But there again, as boss of one of the world’s top five gold mining companies by reserves and market capitalisation, he would say that.

rvaughan@nbr.co.nz

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