Is The Golden Bubble About To Burst?

Published 11 years ago
Is The Golden Bubble About To Burst?

When gold is poured it doesn’t glitter. It drips out in thick globs of orange. If a small amount splashes you, it will burn a hole right through your hand. Yet, the moment it is out of the furnace, you can feel your hand drawn toward it. This is the allure of gold: the most sought after commodity in the world.

In the sooty recesses of the 93-year-old Rand Refinery, to the east of Johannesburg, South Africa, almost 50,000 tons, a third of the world’s gold, has been melted by craftsman clad in singed overalls. In a place that never sees the light of day, where the churning of machinery can deafen you and the light and gas from furnaces can blind you if you don’t wear safety glasses; no one leaves without a full-body x-ray.

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It takes 15 minutes to pour 10 bars, each worth R5.7 million ($570,000). By the time it’s cooled, the rising price of gold makes it worth a million more.

“In this industry no day is the same as the previous day, especially right now when gold is so volatile,” says Howard Craig, CEO of Rand Refinery.

The refinery turns raw gold, flown in from the mines by a fleet of heavily armed helicopters and trucks, into bullion. In churning out the wealth of nations, these men are able to do what machines cannot; pour molten metals into casts to a perfect weight of 12.6kg. The refinery makes its money by this smelting and refining of the metals.

In October, things were cooking when gold was selling at $1,790 an ounce. Since then, the gold industry has hit a downward spiral of fluctuating prices, ending $300 lower at around $1,400.

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“I’m still very bullish about gold and a lot of people panic when they see the gold price drop by $150, like it did in the last couple of weeks. But for me what was really encouraging was [when] people came into the market and we have seen such massive purchasing and demand as a result of the price going down. I think, as a leader at a gold refinery, you have to believe in it. But I think there are some good fundamentals that underpin that belief,” says Craig.

Adrian Saville, an investment analyst from Cannon Asset Managers, believes that, this year, gold’s role as a buffer against economic uncertainty has waned.

“First, the US has a much firmer footing in its economic recovery. Second, through 2012 there was a huge question mark over the survivorship of the euro, especially surrounding Greece and the so-called Grexit [Greece’s possible exit of the Eurozone]. Today, some of this anxiety has been taken off the table and the euro appears to be on firmer ground. Third, in early 2013, investors have been encouraged by Japan’s massive liquidity boost, which has helped reflate the Nikkei and restore some lost confidence,” says Saville.

The analyst says that, as the price has decreased, the historical relationship with other precious metals has revived.

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“At first glance gold has no inherent investment value. Gold has no real industrial application; it is a lump that people want or desire. In this way, the gold price is largely sentiment driven, which is hardly the basis for successful investing. But, at the same time, when countries are wildly printing money, gold offers people a stable store of wealth and that makes it very appealing. In 2000, two million Zimbabwean dollars would have bought you a wheelbarrow of gold. In 2008, you would have had a wheelbarrow full of paper,” says Saville.

They say, get too close to a fire, or molten gold, and you will get burned. It seems, for the moment, the allure of the shiny yellow metal is worth the risk. The trick is, getting out before you get a hole in your hand.