It's the single hottest investment question of early 1980: Where's the price of gold going?

Would you believe $800 to $1,000 by September? It was around $630 as we went to press.

Now if you're about to write off these exuberant and seemingly outrageous forecasts as the rantings of a dyed-in-the-wool bug or doomsayer -- don't. They come from Julian Snyder, publisher of International Moneyline, the nation's largest currency newsletter. And you'd be hard pressed to find anyone around who's been as spectacular as the outspoken Snyder in calling individual price moves in gold over the past year.

Just listen to this. In December of '78, with gold at around the $200 level, Snyder boldly predicted a $360 price tag in '79. When it hit $230 in June of '79, he upped the figure to $400, saying it would reach there in a couple of months. By August, it did indeed crack $400, leading Snyder once again to raise the estimate -- this time out forecasting $500 before year-end '79. Clearly, these uncanny predictions earn Snyder a long rope. And importantly, unlike some other gold bugs (such as James Dines), he doesn't see the price of the precious metal going up forever, nor does he see the world coming to an end.

In a telephone chat, Snyder elaborated on his gold projections, which he just fired off to his roughly 16,000 international clients in his '80 forecasts. These include the likes of Citibank, Exxon, the Dresdner Bank of Frankfurt (one of Germany's largest) and Texaco.

Practically all the experts credit the recent surge in gold to the Iranian crisis. Snyder goes well beyond that, suggesting that the growing lack of confidence worldwide in the United States' ability to resolve the Iranian situation successfully should quickly push the gold price to the $600 level. (He wrote that before the price actually passed that mark.) And even if the U.S. hostages are released with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's blessings (be it before or after spy trials), this won't temper the enthusiasm for gold, declares Snyder. His reasoning: Countries around the world still will view such an outcome as a defeat for the United States because of its failure to take strong early action.

Before that speedy move to $600, though, Snyder saw the possibility of a temporay stumbling block. He thinks the U.S. Treasury, which has been selling 400,000 ounces of gold a month -- a program that's scheduled to end in June -- could make a major effort to knock down the gold price. An example: a possible Treasury sale of several million ounces -- perhaps as early as this month.

"If that happens, it would be a great time to buy gold because the Treasury would eventually be forced to throw in the towel," says Snyder. "The inflationary pressures are such that gold is very unlikely to suffer any significant or prolonged decline for some time . . ."

It's these very same inflationary pressures that Snyder talks about (primarily spurred by the sharp oil price boosts) that led him to put gold at the seemingly incredible price of $1,000 in just eight months.

Here's his argument: The price of imported oil has risen from $12.70 a barrel in December of '78 to its current average price of about $27. This means that the world's oil bill will increase by another $200 billion this year, with less-developed countries shelling out an additional $60 billion to $70 billion, and the United States paying an extra $40 billion to $50 billion.

To help finance the world's more expensive oil bill, the United States will be forced to print a lot more money -- which is precisely what it did in '73 and '74 when imported oil quadrupled in price. Snyder's theory is that such inflationary action will put renewed pressure on the dollar. In fact, he sees a major decline in the dollar -- with the Swiss franc (now worth 50 cents) and the greenback meeting on a one-to-one level before the end of '80.

There wasn't any need for Snyder to finish the thought: it was obvious. An unstable dollar in the kind of bleak currency environment he envisions almost surely would produce a much higher gold price.