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Mon, Jan 28, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Gold shines as stock prices fall

LESSONS OF HISTORY When stocks and money start tumbling, investors head for the soft metal, with its seductive gleam and tangible promises

AFP , SYDNEY

Turbulence on world stock markets has fueled a new gold rush, sending high-tech traders in search of the same "barbaric" treasure mankind has lusted after for millennia.

It was British economist John Maynard Keynes who called gold a "barbaric relic" early last century, but modern investors are showing the same enthusiasm for the precious metal as the grizzled prospectors of legend.

"We have to put gold into perspective right now with the meltdown in the financial system," Far East Capital chairman Warwick Grigor said. "There's great fear out there and gold stands out as a safe haven."

"When there's fear of inflation gold is something investors want to purchase because there is a very limited supply -- you can't flood the market with gold," he said.

"Governments can print money -- that creates inflation. Paper money is just a promise and that promise gets abused constantly by governments," Grigor said.

Gold hit an all-time peak of US$923.73 an ounce on the London Bullion Market on Friday after a week in which global stock markets plunged on fears of a recession in the US.

To staunch the bloodbath on the markets, the US Federal Reserve intervened with a surprise 75 basis points cut in interest rates, a move Grigor described as a short-term fix that would push up inflation.

While gold's rarity is cited as the main reason it will maintain its value in volatile times for stocks and paper money it also seems to wield a primitive fascination beyond its worth.

"Gold may not be rational but human beings are not necessarily rational either," author and analyst Trevor Sykes said.

"Gold has been around for about 3,000 years whereas paper money has been around for only a couple of hundred years and the way things are going I would back gold to outlast most of the paper money in this world," he said.

"It does make nice jewelry, it's very attractive, it appeals to our primeval urges and it looks like it's got a terrific future," Sykes said.

It has been used for centuries as a symbol of wealth in anything from jewelry to gold bathroom fittings or even the coffin of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, who died more than 3,000 years ago.

As currency, the history of gold coins is usually traced through the Roman Empire back to Lydia in what is now Turkey, where it is believed the first real coins were struck around the 6th century BC.

In modern times, the Bretton Woods system introduced after World War II obliged countries to maintain the value of their currencies in a tight link to gold, but the mechanism collapsed in 1971.

Recent events, however, have shown that when stocks and paper money are stumbling, investors head to the soft, malleable metal with its seductive gleam.

"A share in a company is worth nothing -- you can't eat it, you can't do anything with it, it's all paper," Grigor said.

"I buy specimen gold and gold nuggets and store it away because that doesn't disappear overnight like shares can," Grigor said, pointing to the fact that an ounce of gold will still buy a good suit as it did a century ago.

He said that gold would trade up to US$1,500 or US$2,000 an ounce within a year or two.

Sykes also backed the metal to become increasingly precious as the US dollar underwent a de facto devaluation.

"Since about the end of World War II the US dollar has been the world's reserve currency, but the US economy has considerable problems," he said. "They are simply printing more money to buy their way out on the grounds that everyone accepts the US dollar."

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