Last week the Dow Jones hit a 34-month low. The dollar fell to a record low against the German mark and the Swiss franc. At the same time, the price of gold futures contracts advanced to their highest level in three years on the Commodity Exchange Inc. in New York. The spot price of gold in London rose 74 per cent above its August 1976 low of $103.
It is clear from these counter trends -- which do not seem likely to reverse in the near future -- that America, and indeed the whole world, is experiencing the second gold rush of the decade.
Just as in the first gold rush that preceded the Jan. 1, 1975 relegalization of bullion holdings by American citizens, rash predictions of coming record prices abound.
Goldbug James Dines, who foresaw gold at $400 an ounce in 1975 (it fell from about $180 to $140), last November again predicted without specifying a date the precious metal would soar to between $250 and $400 an ounce. Yet, perhaps because many goldbugs went overboard in those halyon days before 1975, analysts now seem more cautious. They talk about gold at $200, or even $225, an ounce in 1978. Their optimism is based on the better political situation in the Mideast and the worse economic situation at home. Almost no one seems to believe gold will fall below $145.
Just as Americans rushed out to buy millions of gold coins in 1974-75, they are doing so now. Most of 1977 was a slow year, but trading picked up noticeably in the final months. In January, sales of South African Krugerrands worldwide amounted to 669, 000 Troy ounces, compared with 203,-000 ounces a year before. American sales are not broken out separately, but Krugerrands account for about 75 per cent of the bullion coins bought here.
Yet, there are significant differences in the first and second gold rushes.* Investors and investments have becomed more sophisticated. The precious metal, as a result, has gained more respectability.
At the beginning of the 1970s, gold except in the form of jewelry and numismatic coins was virtually an unknown quantity to most Americans.
By declaring possession of bullion legion again, the U.S. government sought to demonetize gold, to make its citizens think of it like any other commodity, such as soybeans or wheat. The effort has been largely, but not entirely successful.
Sales of gold jewelry in the United States may well rise 10 percent this year, according to Consolidated Gold Fields. Although Americans do not traditionally think of jewelry as a form of investment, it is so regarded in other countries.
In the first 10 months of 1977 the developed countries bought 16.5 million ounces of gold jewelry. At the same time 13.3 million ounces went to the lesser developed countries. Although the United States has the largest official gold reserves in the word, France has the record for privately held gold, 200 million ounces or twice as much American citizens hold.India, where gold is often hoarded as bracelets or other body ornaments, has 120 million ounces, worth $21 million today, in private hands.
The most significant difference between the first and second gold rushes is the development of trading on the commodity exchanges. In January 1975, when U.S. gold trading started, volume on the exchanges totaled 5.3 million ounces. In January 1978 it amounted to 23 million ounces alone on the New York's Comex. Comex and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's International Monetary Market now constitute the largest gold traders in the world.
According to Dr. Henry Jarecki, chairman of Macatta Metals Corp., a major U.S. bull dealer in New York, it was only after gold recovered from its August 1976 low that American investors came to think of owning gold.