Hey, guess what, folks. The Treasury, after saying it didn't have any plans to sell more gold, may do just that. Apparently, Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, who got big press when he disclosed that the Treasury would hold on to its gold (an estimated 265 million ounces), may have put his foot in his mouth.
Washington sources with solid Treasury contacts tell me the agency is weighing a resumption of gold sales to head off a spiraling balance-of-payments deficit that could subject the greenback to new pressures.
The December trade deficit of more than $3 billion was higher than expected, largely because of a fatter bill for oil imports. The December deficit spurt also reflected a shutoff of gold sales; in November, gold sales, which are registered as merchandise exports totaled $838 million.
The Treasury's last gold sales -- covering 1.25 million ounces -- took place Nov. 1. Before that, the Treasury unloaded 250,000 ounces of gold a month between May and October.
Now some trade experts suggest that the prospects for lowering the deficit aren't particularly bright unless there is a reduction of oil prices or import volume (a development which some think unlikely), or a resumption of gold sales. Further, the embargoes of food and technology to the Russians could create even greater export shortfalls. So the Treasury could make a legitimate case for a resumption of gold auctions.
So OK, let's say the Treasury does unload more gold in exchange for foreign currencies, the effect easing the trade deficit.
Should that be the case, gold should weather the storm easily, some monetary experts says.
Aside from the obvious and well-publicized reasons behind the gold surge -- namely the international crises and a flight from paper currencies because of high worldwide inflation -- sources say gold should continue to benefit from growing private purchases by wealthy Arabs as a means of protecting their wealth (sort of a security blanket).
And there's still the possibility -- which has generated increasing speculation -- that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could push for a new basketful of currencies, including some gold, to replace the U.S. dollar as a means of paying for Mideast oil. s
Now with all those reports of big gold buying by the Arabs (including both Khomeini and the former shah), you'd think that the Arabs had tremendous gold holdings. Well, pretty savvy European gold traders put the Arab holdings at only about 300 million ounces. Granted, that's worth roughly 2 percent of the world's reserves of 2.5 billion ounces in government and private hands. So one could assume that this oil-rich source remains a ripe market for gold.
Here at home, Rep. Henry Reuss, chairman of the House Banking Committee, has proposed that the United States produce upwards of one million one-ounce gold coins a year. And his staff is drafting a report on his recommendations.
In fact, one pollster says, in the minds of more and more Americans, the United States really shouldn't be selling its gold because it would be parting with a strategic reserve.
Where gold is headed is anybody's guess (mine is that it's headed much higher). For the European mentality (and that's where the big gold spark is), one London metals trader may have captured the situation best. g
"It's not a question of where gold's going, but rather how rapidly it will accelerate," he said. "Inflation's not going away, world tensions aren't about to disappear overnight . . . and another aggressive move by Moscow (such as a one into Yugoslavia) could see gold at $1,500 in a couple of hours."