How realistic is $5,000 gold?

The way I view it, there are two scenarios that could push gold prices up to $5,000 an ounce: 1) A slow and steady upward rise in metal prices as governments continue devaluing their currencies; or 2) a…

The way I view it, there are two scenarios that could push gold prices up to $5,000 an ounce: 1) A slow and steady upward rise in metal prices as governments continue devaluing their currencies; or 2) a panic-fueled scramble out of just about every asset class outside of precious metals and tangible assets.

The first option is looking increasingly unlikely. “From what we know about commodity cycles going back into the 1700s, the average bull cycle lasts about 17 years,” John E. LaForge (who heads up Ned Davis Research’s Commodity Team) said in a recent interview with Mineweb. “This commodity cycle has now gone 11 years. Typically the first 10 years of those cycles is when a lot of that easy money is made. That’s when things like gold go up seven times from $250/oz to $1,700/oz. If gold increased seven times from $1,600-1,700/oz, that would equate to $10,000/oz. To get another seven-fold increase from here would be tough.”

Indeed, major investment firms have started paring back their 2012 and 2013 forecasts on gold prices. Citigroup, for instance, forecasts the metal hitting $1,718 an ounce in 2012 and $1,835 an ounce in 2013 – that’s 4 percent less than their last 2013 forecast per Marketwatch.

By 2014, analysts are expecting the Federal Reserve to start closing the spigot on the easy money we’ve been enjoying. Once interest rates start climbing, the dollar should rise and gold prices would likely taper off. Silver will be hit even harder in that scenario, Citi says (see our post: Why Citi says investors should stay away from silver).

As a slow and steady rise toward $5,000 an ounce gold looks increasingly unlikely, that leaves just one other scenario that could push us there: a black swan – some unexpected Lehman Brothers-style collapse or sovereign default that sucker-punches the global economy and leaves investors running for the hills.

There are plenty of candidates that could lead to an investor panic:

  • A breakup or re-organization of the Eurozone
  • A sovereign default in Europe, Asia or elsewhere
  • A sudden spike in bond yields in the U.S. – meaning investors start losing confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to pay back its debt
  • The collapse of a major international bank

“As more and more of this money is printed everywhere, not just in the U.S. but also in the Eurozone, Japan, China and elsewhere, there’s going to be a realization sometime in the next three to five years that maybe the $20 sitting in a pocket isn’t worth what it used to be,” LaForge says. “How do I protect myself? People are going to start looking more toward hard assets. Gold is one of those. Land could be another one. But gold is clearly something you can pick up and move.”

No one wants to see an economic collapse, but pretending warning signs (i.e. the threat of default in Italy, Spain or Greece) aren’t out there is exactly how we could end up with one. If the U.S. government and other governments around the world can restrain spending, $5,000 gold will probably remain one of those mythical, pie-in-the-sky numbers that we never see.

The problem is, governments have trouble reigning in their spending when there’s absolutely nothing backing up their currencies. That makes me think an economic calamity is possible in the coming years. I don’t necessarily see it leading to $5,000 gold (although $2,500 gold definitely looks possible). I do, however, expect to see the emergence of a global, gold-backed currency – one that holds governments and banks alike accountable for their spending.

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