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Gold hits record against euro on fear of Zimbabwe-like policies
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
The Telegraph, London
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Gold has surged to an all-time high against the euro, sterling, and a string of Asian currencies on mounting concerns that global authorities are embarking on a "Zimbabwe-style" debasement of the international monetary system.
"This gold rally is driven by safe-haven fears and has a very different feel from the bull market we've had for the last eight years," said John Reade, chief metals strategist at UBS. "Investors are seeing articles in the press saying governments should deliberately stoke inflation, and they are reacting to it."
Gold jumped to multiple records on Tuesday, triggered by fears that East Europe's banking crisis could set off debt defaults and lead to contagion within the eurozone. It touched E762 an ounce against the euro, L675 against sterling, and 47,783 against India's rupee.
Jewellery demand -- usually the mainstay of the industry -- has almost entirely dried up and the price is now being driven by investors. They range from the billionaires stashing boxes of krugerrands under the floors of their Swiss chalets (as an emergency fund for total disorder) to the small savers buying the exchange-traded funds (ETFs). SPDR Gold Trust has added 200 metric tonnes in the last six weeks. ETF Securities added 62,000 ounces last week alone.
In dollar terms, gold is at a seven-month high of $964. This is below last spring's peak of $1,030 but the circumstances today are radically different. The dollar itself has become a safe haven as the crisis goes from bad to worse -- if only because it is the currency of a unified and powerful nation with institutions that have been tested over time. It is not yet clear how well the eurozone's 16-strong bloc of disparate states will respond to extreme stress. The euro dived two cents to $1.26 against the dollar, threatening to break below a 24-year upward trend line.
Crucially, gold has decoupled from oil and base metals, finding once again its ancient role as a store of wealth in dangerous times.
"People can see that the only solution to the credit crisis is to devalue all fiat currencies," said Peter Hambro, chairman of the Anglo-Russian mining group Peter Hambro Gold. "The job of central bankers is to allow this to happen in an orderly fashion through inflation. I'm afraid it is the only way to avoid disaster, but naturally investors are turning to gold as a form of wealth insurance."
One analyst said the spectacle of central banks slashing rates to zero across the world and buying government debt as if there was no tomorrow feels like the "beginning of the 'Zimbabwe-isation' of the global economy."
Gold bugs have been emboldened by news that Russia has accumulated 90 tonnes over the last 15 months.
"We are buying gold," said Alexei Ulyukayev, deputy head of Russia's central bank. The bank is under orders from the Kremlin to raise the gold share of foreign reserves to 10 percent.
The trend by central banks and global wealth funds to shift reserves into euro bonds may have peaked as it becomes clear that the European region is tipping into a slump that is as deep -- if not deeper -- than the US downturn. Germany contracted at an 8.4 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter. The severity of the crash in Britain, Ireland, Spain, the Baltics, Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia has shifted the epicentre of this crisis across the Atlantic. The latest shock news is the 20 percent fall in Russia's industrial production in January. The country is losing half a million jobs a month.
Markets have been rattled this week by warnings from rating agency Moody's that Austrian, Swedish, and Italian banks may face downgrades over their heavy exposure to the ex-Soviet bloc. The region has borrowed $1.7 trillion (L1.2 trillion) -- mostly from European banks -- and must roll over $400 billion this year.
Austria's central bank governor, Ewald Nowotny, said the regional crisis had become "dangerous" and called for a pan-EU rescue strategy to prevent contagion.
Bartosz Pawlowski, from TD Securities, said the recent plunge in currencies across Eastern Europe had come as a brutal shock. "The rout could potentially lead to substantial problems, if not an outright collapse of the financial system," he said, citing the rising real burden of debt taken out in euros and Swiss francs.
Even Poland -- a pillar of stability in the region -- may ultimately need a bailout by the International Monetary Fund. Latvia, Hungary, Ukraine, and Belarus have already been rescued. Romania's premier, Emil Boc, said his country would decide over the next two weeks whether to seek an IMF loan. Turkey is next.
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