No other asset class is as good as gold
Of all the asset classes, gold is said to be most romantic.
It is claimed that running your fingers over crumpled old share certificates cannot really compare with doing the same thing with a nice shiny Krugerrand or a Gold Double Eagle – one of which once sold for $7.2m (€5.3m).
I will admit that gold has all the positive emotions on its side. It beats shares hands down when it comes to jewellery and is much better if you find it necessary to replace a front tooth.
Over the past six or seven years gold has also produced an extraordinary price surge at a time when other asset classes, most especially shares and property, were finding the going very tough.
This is not surprising as gold has always been regarded as the great, reliable standby at times of uncertainty, even if this grates on the nerves of professional investors.
They think it is a last refuge of the unthinking, because gold is non-productive, non-yielding, pays no dividends and, of course, it needs protection from the criminal classes.
However, the demand for gold increased four-fold in the first decade of the millennium, driving the price up, and although it has lost a bit of its lustre in the past year, it is still trading at just under $1,400 an ounce.
Is this the time to take another look at gold? It is poised in a very interesting position at the moment.
Having run out of puff this year when the US Federal Reserve Board chiefs opted to wind down bond purchases and were encouraging the notion that quantitive easing is coming to an end, the gold price is also being influenced by some other factors.
A few big investors such as George Soros have made it known that they are winding down their holdings of gold.
There have been other technical changes in the way gold has featured in the investment business. Exchange traded funds, which had been buyers of gold in the past, offloaded a vast pile of the metal this year.
Their sales in the second quarter of this year alone were reportedly worth more (in value) than the entire annual South African gold production.
And if all this was not enough, operators on the futures market have been selling the metal short.
So is the jig up for gold and are we in for another gold bear market that will see the price tumble? Interestingly, the experts don't think so.
In fact, they believed that the price could be stabilised in or around the present levels and the economic picture could also determine the price.
I reckon too that the serious concern about what is going on in the Middle East is another disconcerting factor that could have a telling and beneficial effect on the gold price.
The great thing about gold is that there's a variety of ways in which to invest in it. You can follow the commodity or you can buy the shares of gold-mining companies.
It is interesting that for a few years now it has been cheaper to buy gold-mining shares than to purchase bullion.
So it could be worth looking at shares such as Fresnillo, a gold miner in Mexico or Mandalay Resources quoted on the Toronto Exchange, even Centamin – a gold mining company operating in Egypt.
But be aware that the global index of gold-mining shares has fallen in the last two years by nearly 60pc while the fall in bullion has been less than half that rate and this year alone gold- mining funds have been a disaster.
The big question is: should people bother to buy gold at all? After all, in the 20 years leading up to the millennium, it lost nearly 75pc of its value.
And this is the asset class that is reputed to protect against inflation. However, as soon as inflation becomes a factor again (and it will) there will be hundreds of thousands of rich people rushing to gold as a way of hedging against the fall in the value of money.
Another gold bubble will be making its presence felt and the romantics will be in their element again. For the present, I will stick with shares which are having a good run this year, while keeping a beady eye on gold prices.