There is an element of fool's gold in investor sentiment
As the women in my life have always known, I've never been an easy mark when it comes to lashing out some incredible sum on gold or other jewellery. Even getting me to buy a small trinket, unless it's absolutely mandatory, is akin to drawing blood from a stone.
I blame my mother: I cannot recall her ever wearing jewellery apart from a wedding ring and the occasional pair of earrings. She was always quite comfortable with a practical watch with a simple strap. It was only very rarely that she even bothered with a touch of lipstick. When she had some spare money, she preferred to buy a nice painting.
Fortunately, the women in my life have over the years come to terms with my reluctance to fork out hard-earned cash on trinkets. After all, I don't grumble too much if they spend their own money on frivolous decorations.
But this year I have been watching with interest the almost relentless upsurge in the price of gold, which closed last week at nearly $1,800 (Dh6,600) an ounce and is forecasted to hit the $2,000 mark next year. Newspaper reports suggest that local suppliers of gold bars are struggling to meet jewellers' demand. A modest 100-gram bar costs around Dh22,000, up 20 per cent or so since May.
For centuries gold has been a safe haven in times of political and economic crisis, quite apart from jewellery, so it's perhaps not surprising that the price is rising so rapidly this year. The near-collapse of several European economies, swingeing cuts by the governments in many other countries, turmoil across the Middle East, problems with the US dollar and much more have all put the slow recovery since 2008 in question.
With more gloom anticipated, the new rush for gold could be expected, even if the pace of the price increase is a surprise.
Of course, local jewellers are delighted to report a booming business after a rather slack period. This month I have received more text message promotions from jewellers than ever before.
But there has to be some scepticism about some of the more exuberant claims about the benefits of buying gold bars. The other day, a manager at a jewellery store was quoted as saying that customers were buying gold bars "because they know they won't take losses if the price drops".
Really? Is he selling gold with a money-back guarantee? The price may go up or it may go down, but just as in most investments there is an element of uncertainty. Indeed, some of those who bought gold bars earlier this month, when the price hit nearly $1,900, probably had a few sleepless nights when it fell back towards $1,700 before partially recovering to last Friday's close.
There will be investors who are trying to profit from short-term fluctuations as well as a long-term safe haven. There is plenty of scope for the price to fall if buyers decide to lock in gains made since the beginning of the year.
In any investment the conventional wisdom is diversity your portfolio instead of putting all of your eggs in the same basket. Another piece of advice that I have taken to heart after a few painful mistakes is that if the crowd - the "herd" in investment jargon - starts to pile into something, it's probably the right time to think of getting out.
For those prepared to take a long-term view and to hold onto their gold bars or expensive jewellery for years, perhaps it's worth joining the herd at this high point. But if you can't afford the initial investment, think very carefully indeed.
As for the women in my life, though, now is definitely not the time to try to coax me to buy them a shiny trinket or two.
Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's culture and heritage
Published: August 30, 2011 04:00 AM