Will the U.S. dollar return to the gold standard?

Formally, perhaps not. But some members of the business community are betting on the increasingly strong ties between gold and the dollar in light of an amendment tacked onto the Tax and Loan Account legislation now awaiting President Carter's signature.

The so-called gold clause, originally proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) would permit U.S. citizens for the first time since 1933 to write contracts linking the payments to the value of gold.

The gold clause is cited by New York and London metals traders as a major cause of the recent spiral in gold prices to over $160 from a low of $112 in mid-1976. It also has triggered some advance planning on the part of shipping and grain companies, who are among the international traders suffering losses on long-term contracts as the dollar plummets against other currencies.

One small New York commodities firm announced this week that it plans to offer its clients and employees the option of being paid in gold or its dollar equivalent once the legislation is signed into law.

"We're coming back to basics," said Joseph Diliberto, president of Macro International Group Ltd. "We feel that right now the dollar is under a lot of pressure and we expect it to continue. But the rising price of gold is a more stable standard for payment."

Diliberto said he thinks the dollar will ultimately recover to be the strongest world currency, but "not until 1979 or 1980." Until then, he's betting with the gold bugs.

He said the firm will pay client balances and salaries of those employees requesting it the dollar equivalent of the London gold fix following their payment request. The price of gold is fixed twice daily by dealers in that capital.

Treasury officials have supported the legislation on the basis that it will "treat gold like any other commodity." It also is an extension of the legislation permitting Americans to own gold, which was enacted Jan. 1, 1975 after years of debate.

Treasury officials do not agree with many commodity analysts' view that the gold clause comes close to a remonetarizing the dollar to a gold standard.

A metals specialist at a leading New York brokerage said Thursday. "It establishes gold as the standard for contract. In the commercial world, then, gold is the standard for the dollar. To argue otherwise is strictly a semantic debate."

The interest in gold is sweeping into other financial areas as well. Some utilities reportedly are considering offering goldbacked bonds at several percentage points below current bond-rate levels because of the greater stability of the metal over the dollar.

Treasury officials stressed last week that the U.S. remains opposed to a formal restoration of the gold standard or to setting a fixed price for gold because of the advantages it would give to South Africa and the Soviet Union, the world's major producers.