Washington appears closer to making a deal to avert the looming fiscal cliff. But the longer investors have to wait for a deal, the more likely gold prices will rise.
As a group, central banks will have bought about 500 tons of gold this year, the most in more than 40 years. More large purchases are expected in 2013.
Foremost amongst the gold buyers are the central banks of emerging economies around the globe. Recent years have seen purchases by Russia, South Korea, Mexico, India and, as most believe, China.
Another country joining the party, or in this case the carnival, is Brazil.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Brazil raised its gold reserves for the second month in a row in October. Brazil made its first significant gold purchase in more than a decade in September. It expanded its gold holdings by a hefty 17.2 tons last month to 52.5 tons.
This is the largest amount of gold Brazil has held in more than 11 years, since January 2001.
So why is Brazil jumping aboard the bandwagon now and buying gold at a record pace?
During the last secular gold bull market in the 1970s, gold rose from $35 in 1968 all the way to $200 by late 1974.
Then the unthinkable happened. Between late 1974 and mid-1976, gold prices were cut in half, dropping from about $200 to $100.
At the time, many gold investors sold out in disgust, never to return.
But then a funny thing occurred. Gold prices started to climb again, rising from $100 in mid-1976 all the way to $800 by January 1980.
And anyone who was fortunate enough to own gold at $35 earned better than 20 times their investment in just 12 years.
Twenty-one years later, a new bull market began. Since 2001, gold has consistently performed in what now appears to be a record-setting run.
In fact, since 2001 the average return on gold is now just shy of 18% annually over the last 11 years.
I know of no other major asset that has turned in this kind of performance -- ever. This rise in gold prices is simply unmatched.
This is what a stealth bull market looks like, one that I fully expect will keep powering on.
Now, let's have a look at where gold prices might be headed in 2013...
Three well-known billionaire investors - George Soros, John Paulsen and Julian Robertson - have been adding heavily to their gold holdings this year.
Gold buying by some of the world's most successful investors is a strong argument that gold prices, despite their impressive rise over the past several years, still have a long way to go.
The precious metal is expected to enjoy its 12th straight year of increases in 2013. So far this year, gold prices are up about 10%.
Forecasters see gold rising each quarter in 2013, ending at $1,925 an ounce in the last quarter, or 11% higher than current prices, according to Bloomberg.
While gold prices haven't moved much lately, investors need to stay focused on the long term.
On Tuesday, December gold futures on the Comex fell $8.50 (0.5%) to $1,725.9 an ounce. This came after remarks by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke that the looming fiscal cliff could threaten the U.S. economy.
Of course, such minor bumps haven't kept the smart money - billionaire investors -- from buying gold.
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For the first time ever, the London Bullion Metal Association (LBMA) held its annual meeting in Hong Kong. It is a trade group that represents the wholesale market for gold and silver and it's telling that it decided to have its meeting in Hong Kong.
However, the site choice should not come as a surprise to anyone following the gold market. China has become more and more important to the gold market. The Asian giant's imports of the shiny yellow metal have become a key factor in gold's positive price performance over the last few years.
Investing in Gold: China's RoleBullion demand from China has soared in the past several years.
In 2007, China accounted for just 10% of global gold demand. By 2011, China was responsible for 21% of global gold demand. This trend can easily be seen in figures from the World Gold Council (WGC). It said gold demand in China has risen from about 250 tons in 2006 to almost 800 tons presently.
What the WGC numbers don't tell you about though is how China's central bank, the People's Bank of China, is buying gold. Gold imports into China via Hong Kong (the route the central bank uses) has continued to rise rapidly despite a dip recently in gold buying by Chinese consumers.
Hong Kong has seen on average about 65 tons in gross imports of gold per month. Year-to-date China has imported an astounding 582 tons of gold, more than the official holdings of another country well known for loving gold, India.
It is not shocking that the Chinese central bank is trying to get its hands on large amounts of the precious metal.
As David Gornall, chairman of the LBMA, told the conference "The country [China] has only 2 percent of its reserves in the form of gold." He added "that allocation can only go in one direction."
Now China's buying gold in an attempt to play catch up with the United States and other influential nations, the London Bullion Market Association reports.
At a recent conference in Hong Kong, Chairman David Gornall told the association's conference, "When comparing China to the U.S., it would seem that in China, gold asset allocation can only go in one direction. The country has only 2% of its reserves in the form of gold compared with the U.S. at 75%."
Other developed countries, including Germany, Italy and France, maintain a gold reserve in excess of 70%. Meanwhile, China's share lags, data from the World Gold Council reveals, trailing at a paltry 2%.
Since 2009, The People's Bank of China has not disclosed any changes to its gold holdings. At that time, the bank noted its stash had risen by 76% to some 1,054 tons. Its cache is set to swell again as the country, facing an economic slowdown from a plethora of lethargic international markets, gets defensive.
The spike in gold imports to China, via Hong Kong, reveals new significant accumulations of the commodity. Chinese imports of the precious metal totaled 69.7 metric tons in September, a striking 22% increase from a year ago.
The fiscal cliff countdown has come to the forefront of concerns this week, helping push the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 2% since last Friday.
But for gold prices, this could be a good thing.
Here's how the fiscal cliff will affect gold prices as Washington battles over how to solve the looming threat to the U.S. economy.
In response to the article, John wrote:
"All this talk about buying gold. Where is the gold going to come from? No one seems to be selling. And what about all the scamming that's going on in the gold market these days?"
Here's the thing: John essentially agrees with the case we made for gold - he just doesn't realize it.
And with President Barack Obama's successful re-election, the case for higher gold prices got even stronger - overnight.
Let me give you seven reasons that gold prices are destined to head much higher in the next several years. Let's call it the Obama "baker's half-dozen" case for gold:
- The Central Banker Effect: Official statistics, which some observers dispute (I'll get to that in a minute), say that the world's central banks have become net buyers of gold for the first time in nearly a quarter century. If that's the case, that's clearly bullish for gold. At the very least, we're not going to see any big selling.
- The Central Banker Effect (Part Deux): Although we referred to the "Secret Gold Standard" to underscore the point that central banks were returning to the gold market, we made clear this wasn't a literal return to a Bretton Woods-style "gold standard." There's not enough gold in the world to support such a move - which is why Capital Economics Chief Economist Julian Jessop recently estimated that a return to the gold standard would cause the price of the yellow metal to spike to $10,000 an ounce. There's an important lesson here: If central banks are hoarding gold, prices can't help but go higher - gold standard or not.
And in many ways, we're right back where we started with the same President, and a house divided.
For investors, all the uncertainty this situation brings to the fiscal cliff and its impending tax increases and spending cuts are likely to fuel plenty of volatility for the next several months.
Yesterday's almost 300 point drop on the Dow and a 7% pop in the VIX are good examples of this.
We can also expect Ben Bernanke to be in place until at least early 2014. The only change I expect from the Fed now is more frequent and still larger easing campaigns, as well as potentially extending low rates, again, beyond mid-2015. Even if Bernanke is replaced, I expect only more of the same seriously misguided policies.
In fact, just yesterday San Francisco Fed President John Williams hinted that the most recent QE3 bond buying program could well exceed $600 billion.
So what does all of this mean to investors in hard assets--particularly those with holdings in gold and silver?
Leading into Election Day, traders are the most bullish they have been in 10 weeks. Eighteen of 27 gold analysts contacted by Bloomberg News were expecting higher gold prices in the short-term, while only five of the analysts were bearish.
Holdings in gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) reached a record 2,588.4 metric tons on Nov. 1, which was valued at $140 billion. According to Bloomberg data, holdings in gold ETFs in the past three months have enjoyed their best run since August 2011.
Of course, the rise in bullishness regarding gold is not only due to the presidential election, but also to continued loose monetary policy from the U.S. Federal Reserve. Gold did rise 70% as the Fed bought $2.3 trillion of debt during the first two rounds of quantitative easing.
So should gold investors expect anything to change if President Obama wins re-election?
Under a true gold standard, paper notes are "convertible" into pre-determined, fixed quantities of the "yellow metal."
What actually happened back in 1971 was that President Nixon - facing huge budget and trade deficits, and a plunging dollar - enacted a series of economic moves, including the unilateral cancellation of the direct convertibility of the U.S. dollar into gold.
By slamming the "gold window" shut, Nixon also brought down the curtain on the existing Bretton Woods system of global financial exchange.
The fallout was immediate, creating a situation that financial historians still refer to as the "Nixon Shock."
Proponents of the gold standard say the real damage is still being wrought: That decision four decades ago led directly to the uncertainty, volatility and irresponsibility that we see in the U.S. economy and global financial markets today.
Whether you agree or not is a topic for another time.
But what I'm here to tell you today is that the world's central banks have quietly - almost secretly - returned the world to a new version of the gold standard.
Back in 2010, the world's central banks became net buyers of gold for the first time since 1988. Buying ramped last year and net purchases exceeded 455 metric tons (tonnes). That was the largest net purchase since 1964.
But the world's central bankers will handily eclipse the 2011 totals here in 2012: They will purchase a projected 493 metric tons this year as they expand reserves to diversify away from the U.S. dollar and protect their countries' economies against inflation, Thomson Reuters GFMS said.
And GFMS said you can expect central banks "to remain a significant gold buyer for some time to come."
Real Asset Returns Editor Peter Krauth told me he completely agrees with that assessment.
As Peter explained: "You can see their thinking, Bill ... you can see them saying: "We have enough of all these fiat currencies in our bank reserves - now we want something that's going to counter those holdings, that's a valuable asset and that has all the right fundamentals in place.' And that asset is gold."
We're seeing the results of this "new gold standard" in the marketplace...
Gold is expected to continue its rise in 2013, reaching up to the $2,000 mark - or higher.
On Oct. 23, Deutsche Bank analysts called for gold to exceed $2,200 an ounce next year. This came in light of the stimulus measures by central banks.
They wrote in a research note via Commodity Online, "While we have targeted gold prices moving above $2,000/oz. since the beginning of 2011, we believe the Fed's open-ended program of QE announced last month increases our confidence that a surge in the gold price above this level is only a matter of time."
Yesterday (Wednesday), December gold futures closed at $1,719.10.
But if we fast-forward to January, even March 2013, if Romney wins Election 2012, would gold prices be able to continue their upward run?
Here's what a Romney win would do for the yellow metal.
On Wednesday, markets returned to action and December gold prices rose to a week high on the Comex of $1,720.40.
But even without activity in the States, gold prices have a major catalyst from another part of the world: India.
This year, India's demand for gold has been off as authorities blame the metal for the country's economic problems, higher gold import fees and a lower Indian rupee.
But Indians don't stay away from gold for long - especially ahead of festival season.
Festival season in India, which includes Diwali and Dhanteras, starts in November. Weddings will also take place during this period with gold jewelry included in dowries.
With a "pent-up' demand for gold in India, it has the potential next year to hit new highs -- past $2,000 an ounce, reported Emirates 24/7.
On Tuesday, trading in the December gold contract on the Multi Commodity Exchange (MCX) closed 0.01% higher to 31,097 rupees per 10 grams, after seeing a 30,968 rupee low--a level not seen since August, reported Reuters.
In fact, the metal's string of annual gains is its longest winning streak in at least nine decades.
So it is hardly surprising that some investors are questioning whether the strong performance will continue for gold prices in 2013. Recent market activity shows a short-term pullback is on its way.
As Money Morning's Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald explained today, "Many hedge funds and institutions are using gold to collateralize their marginable assets right now so one of the first things they're going to sell to raise cash when faced with a margin call is gold. They're also sitting on large profits that they'll immediately begin to take off the table in a sell-off. This will end up catching a lot of investors by surprise because they expect gold to take off when the stuff hits the fan."
But that doesn't mean the long-term 2013 gold price outlook is doomed.
Fitz-Gerald said gold will take off - "but only after it takes an initial hit."
In fact, Money Morning Global Resources Specialist Peter Krauth said gold could hit $2,200 by April or May.
Looking beyond the sell-off, here are three key drivers of gold prices in 2013.