Gold and silver investors suffered some price jolts last week, but it's still too early to call and end to the metals mania. Some signs point strongly to lower prices but other signs will point up. On the downside:
All commodities prices tend to move down as the economy passes into recession. In the 1974-75 recession, gold prices fell nearly 50 percent. iIf the rate of increase slows even moderately this year, precious-metals should slow with it.
The huge, erratic price moves shown lately by both silver and gold are typical of the zaniness that signifies market tops. Just one year ago, silver was $6 an ounce and gold, $236. Last Friday, they were, respectively, $33.50 and $634 here. An old Wall Street saw says that bulls (that is, people who invest in rising markets) usually win, but pigs usually lose. The one-year profits in gold and silver ought to be enough for any pig.
In the United States, Europe and even Kuwait, people are lining up to sell old gold and silver, jewelry, cigarette cases, dinnerware, antiques. It seems to be a shared judgement that at current prices, gold and silver are overvalued relative to paper currency and to the other goods that currently can buy.
The German government last week took steps to dampen gold speculation. In the United States, the commodities exchange threw a wet blanket on trading in silver contracts for future delivery. The New York Commodities Exchange will not allow any new purchases or sales of silver futures contracts, an unprecedented step for a private exchange. The Chicago Board of Trade stopped new positions deliverable through March.
People who already own silver contracts can buy or sell in order to close out their positions, but new money can't come into the market. The effect of all this is to keep out late enthusiasts who typically buy at market tops and send prices into a terminal spurt.
The Commodities Exchange also acted to prevent the possibility of a classic market corner.
But despite these downward pressures, gold and silver bulls still have some talking points.
The U.S. recession may be much milder and more inflationary than preciously expected. The federal budget deficit is already swelling, due partly to higher defense spending, higher interest rates, and the extra $2 billion or $3 billion needed to support the grain embargo against the Soviet Union. The new American consensus calls for higher military spending to protect our oil supplies and combat the Soviet Union. But we also want to cut our income taxes. This misbegotten strategy of "guns and butter" was last seen in the Lyndon Johnson era. It spells worse budget deficits and higher inflation.
Many people have given up hope that the United States will ever get inflation under control. Even if gold dips this year, spiralling future prices may soon send gold to new highs.
New disturbances in the Middle East could send more flight capital into gold at any prices.
Which side of the bull-bear argument you choose will determine whether you want to buy gold and silver today. But either way, the future lies in the hands of Allah.