Trend: Currency devaluation – the falling dollar – is a primary reason that gold is attracting smart money.
Alice Schroeder at Bloomberg.com describes why gold is a good investment before financial crises. Excerpts below.
...the relationship between gold and financial crises goes back centuries. In the aftermath of the credit-bubble bust, we confront a Moby Dick-size pile of leverage and the question of whether this is inflationary or deflationary. So it’s worth considering what the price of gold may be telling us.
Leverage is a broad term that covers the complete history of finance, which all boils down essentially to the same structure: debt secured by assets. You give me a cow, I give you a piece of paper. Later innovations are simply variations of obligations secured by assets.
So a simple explanation of bubbles is that they form whenever someone creates a rationale to increase obligations too far beyond the level justified by the assets, regardless of the form of the asset or obligation.
...consumers have figured out that it was all a big head-fake from the Federal Reserve. Real incomes haven’t grown in years. Manufacturing and, increasingly, service jobs are still moving overseas. The Treasury is trying to pump the economy back to a high-water mark that was phony to begin with, and doing so in the face of a savings rate that is going up.
The Treasury will succeed in printing enough money to forestall severe deflation. Even so, dollars will keep flowing out of the U.S. to other countries as the trade gap widens. Only when we start creating more jobs and higher earnings can this dynamic reverse. The question is, when will that be?
Enter the gold bugs. They aren’t just betting on inflation, as is the conventional wisdom. Gold has a wicked history of being an unreliable inflation hedge. It has, though, at times been a haven against sudden currency depreciation.
In all the talk of inflation because the Treasury is printing so much money versus deflation because it may not print enough, there is one type of inflation that is rarely discussed. This is the mega-inflation caused by a sudden currency devaluation. Currency is like any financial innovation, an obligation secured by assets. When the obligation is perceived to have increased far beyond the level justifiable by the assets, which in this case make up a country’s economy, a bubble has formed.
As in any bubble, those who recognize this need to act well in advance. Historically, governments have taken action to prevent currency flight when the owners of a severely overvalued medium of exchange start selling so much that it adds to the pressure on its price. They make private purchases of gold illegal, or tax the exchange of currency.
Right now, the American economy is worth less than the value implied by the market value of its obligations. How much less, no one knows. But gold bugs will tell you, privately, that this is why they are buyers. Might as well stock up, they say, before gold becomes a controlled substance.