Is gold set for a correction?
Gold - along with oil - has been testing record levels in recent days - and the Fed's decision to cut interest rates just gave it an extra boost. But is now the best time to buy into the yellow metal - or should you wait for a dip?
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Given the choice between defending the dollar and saving the stock market, Ben Bernanke did what you'd expect of any acolyte of Alan Greenspan.
He ditched the dollar without a second's regret. Last night's quarter-point interest rate cut took the greenback to a new record low against the euro and saw the pound briefly tip above the $2.08 mark.
There was some dissent however - one member of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee wanted to keep rates at 4.75%. Such rebellion is unusual in the States, unlike our own somewhat tempestuous Bank of England meetings.
It's little wonder that some FOMC members are worried. The price of both oil and gold are testing record levels, a sure warning sign of inflation. But the gains in oil and gold are about so much more than mere dollar weakness
The dollar's decline has of course sent the price of oil and gold higher. Both are priced in dollars - if the supply of dollars rises, and the supply of gold and oil stays broadly the same, then the dollar price of each rises.
But neither commodities' strong gains are purely down to dollar weakness. The pundits have been out in force recently to carp about the oil price being fuelled purely by speculation. Oil cartel Opec has said that it has never seen the price so disconnected from the supply. And Goldman Sachs recently issued a report suggesting that the price is set to fall back.
All this downbeat speculation took its toll on the oil price yesterday - at least, until the latest US inventories data for last week was published. Everyone had been expecting crude stocks to rise by about 600,000 barrels - in fact, they fell by 3.9m barrels.
This sent the oil price to a new high of over $95 a barrel in New York, while Brent headed above $90 a barrel once again. According to the FT, "technical analysts said there were few significant resistance points restraining a move to the $100 level."
What was behind the decline? Well, there was a big fall in stocks at Cushing, in Oklahoma, a key delivery point for crude. Stocks there - at 15.1 barrels - are at their lowest since October 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina hit. Meanwhile, imports were hit by disrupted production in Mexico.
It's the usual story with the oil market. Stocks could well rebound next week, and prices may fall. Unless something else happens. Like a bomb on a pipeline, or escalated tension in some part of the Middle East, or a tropical storm picking up somewhere inside the Gulf of Mexico. At the moment, the oil market is jittery and looking for any excuse to push higher.
Our feeling is that - like anything - betting on the short-term movements of the markets is exactly that - pure gambling. But in the long-term, it seems pretty certain that we can rely on the oil price averaging much more than the $40 a barrel that until very recently almost every analyst expected it to return to.
That has a lot of knock-on consequences. Inflationary pressure is one. High oil prices don't just have an impact in terms of energy use - just now, they are also forcing up the price of food. Both corn and soyabeans rose in tandem with oil yesterday, on speculation that rising oil costs will drive up demand for biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. A side effect of that, of course, is that your breakfast, lunch and dinner also become more expensive.
So even with all the fiddling that politicians inflict on inflation figures it will be hard to hide the fact that many aspects of our lives just continue to become ever more expensive. And the rising gold price is evidence that investors are coming to understand that.
Now nothing goes up in a straight line forever, and several commentators whose opinions I respect suspect there might be a correction in gold in the near future (including the writer of this week's MoneyWeek cover story on gold miners, Dominic Frisby). Does that matter? Well, not really. It may mean that now's not the best time to top up your holdings but then again, if you believe, as we do, that inflation will continue to rise, and that gold will go above $1,000 an ounce in the not-too-distant future, then who cares if you buy at $800 now and it dips?
Just before I go on the topic of gold, I constantly get emails (quite understandably) pointing out that gold is priced in dollars. If we're so bearish on the dollar, readers ask, then how can you recommend gold? The simple answer is, I expect gold to rise by more than the dollar falls, which has so far been the case. The yellow metal has risen 28% in dollar terms in the last year but it's still climbed 18% in sterling terms, and is sitting at around £380 an ounce.
If you want to keep an eye on how much gold has risen in sterling terms yourself, just go to www.kitco.com and scroll to the bottom of the page, where you can find gold's price in a range of currencies.
Turning to the wider markets
London's benchmark FTSE 100 index rose throughout the session yesterday to close at its intraday high of 6,721, a 62-point gain. M&A talk propelled electrical retailer DSG International and pub owner Mitchells and Butler to the top of the FTSE leaderboard. For a full market report, see: London market close
On the Continent, the Paris CAC-40 rose 44 points to 5,847, led by Air France. Over in Frankfurt, the leading DAX-30 index was up 41 points at 8,019 as good Q3 results for blue-chips such as MAN and Deutsche Bank saw stocks reverse earlier losses.
Across the Atlantic, the Fed's decision to cut interest rates boosted stocks and saw the major indices end the day - and October as a whole - in positive territory. The Dow Jones closed up 137 points at 13,930. The tech-rich Nasdaq was 42 points higher, at 2,859. And the broader S&P 500 added 18 points to end the day at 1,549.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei was up 132 points at 16,870. And in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng was 140 points higher, at 31,492, today.
Crude oil had jumped a further $1 to $95.69 this morning and Brent spot was also higher, at $91.28, in London.
Spot gold hit a 28-year high of $799.30 today, but had since slipped down to $797.40. And silver was at $14.49.
Sterling had fallen back to a session low of 2.0755 against the dollar this morning on the release of weak UK manufacturing data. Against the euro, the pound was last trading at 1.4396. And the dollar was at 0.6925 against the euro and 115.66 against the Japanese yen.
And in London this morning, consumer goods stock Unilever announced a 37% increase in Q3 net profit thanks to strong sales in Asia and Africa. Shares in Unlilever, which is listed in London and Amsterdam, had risen by as much as 4.7% in Amsterdam.
Finally, our recommended articles for today...
Why your weekly shop costs more than you think - Mangoes from Spain, avocados from Mexico, wine from Chile... We need to seriously rethink the contents of our shopping baskets if we're going to have any hope of living more sustainably, says Tom Bulford. To read more on why the modern world could go the way of Mesopatamia - whose ecosystem simply couldn't cope with the demands of its human population - if we don's start sacrificing out-of-season vegetables and exotic fruits, click here: Why your weekly shop costs more than you think
Credit's getting harder to come by - One million people in the UK used credit cards to pay their rent or mortgage in the past year. And it is these people who are most reliant on credit who will see it dry up first. If you want to know more about what a credit contraction is and how our own squeeze is set to unfold, click here: Credit's getting harder to come by