Inside the gold frenzy

“It could be your grandmother’s gold or the gift of an ex-boyfriend,” said Erhard Oberli, the Chief Executive of Argor-Heraeus, a major refiner here that processes roughly 400 tons of gold a year. “Gold doesn’t disappear.” Amid a global frenzy fed by multibillion-dollar hedge funds, wealthy speculators and governments all rushing to stock up on the precious yellow metal, the price of gold briefly surpassed $1,100 an ounce on Friday, a record high.

Long considered the ultimate refuge for nervous investors, gold has climbed as the dollar has steadily weakened, budget deficits have expanded in the United States and Europe, and central banks have continued to pump trillions of dollars into weak economies, creating fears of another asset bubble that will ultimately pop.“It’s not that gold has changed, but gold buyers have changed,” said Suki Cooper, a precious-metals strategist for Barclays Capital.

“Gold’s appeal has broadened,” added  Cooper, who predicts that it will hit $1,140 an ounce by the second quarter of next year. Indeed, last month, Harrods, the 160-year-old London department store, began selling coins as well as gold bullion ranging from tiny 1-gram ingots to the hefty, 12.5-kilogram, 400-Troy-ounce bricks that are so often featured in movies and stocked inside the vaults of Fort Knox.

Even the most bullish of gold lovers were surprised last week when the Reserve Bank of India stepped in and bought 220 tonnes of gold from the International Monetary Fund for $6.7 billion, a sign that other central banks might move away from dollar-denominated assets like Treasury bonds in favour of the precious metal. India’s purchase means that gold will now account for about 6 per cent of India’s $285.5 billion of foreign exchange reserves — up from the level of about 4 per cent.

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