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Glad rothschilds giving up gold { September 11 2001 }

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I’m glad Rothschild is giving up gold
By George Trefgarne
(Filed: 19/04/2004)

Has the price of gold peaked? The Rothschild family evidently thinks so. And they know a fair bit about it, having seen more of the stuff than most of us over the years. Baron David de Rothschild, the new family patriarch, has said he is pulling out of the market. He obviously believes the precious metal’s four-year bull run, which has taken the price from $250 an ounce to a high of $431 earlier this month, is over.

I hope he is right. For, if he is, it could be the best financial news for years. A falling gold price, as we had throughout the 1990s, is a sign that all is right in the world. By contrast, a rising gold price signals the opposite: war, revolution, plague and inflation. Gold has thrived since September 11, 2001. It is the safest haven of them all and, unlike paper securities such as shares, bonds or even currencies, it depends on no government, company or individual for its value. Its price is set only by the market. With every squeak from Osama bin Laden, and every strike in retaliation, it has twitched inexorably upwards.

Apart from reading my colleague Christopher Howse’s new book Comfort, buying gold has been the smartest way to cheer yourself up during the war on terror. A few years ago — in a rare act of generosity — Gordon Brown took VAT off it. So you, too, can hoard some sovereigns, or a nice heavy bar of your own, if you are so minded. And I am relieved to say that those of you who bought some the last time I wrote about it here, in December 2002, will be sitting on a shiny profit. Indian families are great gold traders, and tend to move the family money around by festooning their wives in jewellery. Indeed, some bangles sold on the Ealing Road in Wembley, north London (where there are about 20 gold jewellers), are even called “tickets“ and are priced in line with the cost of flying between London and Bombay.

So it is a pretty big call by Baron David to leave the market and to stop running the “fix“, as the daily trade is called. Officially, this is about using Rothschild capital more efficiently. But my reading is that Baron David reckons that the worst of the war on terror is over and that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are returning to their dark and fetid stables. Certainly, bin Laden’s offer last week to treat with the Europeans may be the first sign of weakness.

Even so, I doubt Baron David’s predecessor at the Rothschild helm, Sir Evelyn, is delighted. Gold is a thread woven into his family tapestry. During the Napoleonic wars, the Rothschilds arranged vast shipments of gold on behalf of the British government to pay for Wellington’s operations in Portugal and to subsidise our allies. Napoleon even allowed some of it to pass through Paris, despite being tipped off by his spies. As an avowed mercantilist, he believed, erroneously, that gold leaving London was inherently bad for the British economy and good for France.

In fact, this traffic in gold was the foundation of the Rothschild fortunes. Nathan Meyer Rothschild later recalled his first big transaction, when he bought £800,000 worth of gold from the East India Company. “I knew the Duke of Wellington must have it,“ he said. “That was the best business I ever did.“

Baron David isn’t the only one who thinks gold has gone high enough. Nicolas Sarkozy, the tricky new French finance minister, has persuaded the Bank of France to sell some of the 3,000 tonnes of gold it has in its huge vaults, 27 metres below the level of the Seine. Like so many deluded finance ministers (not least Gordon Brown), Mr Sarkozy thinks gold is a barbarous metal and prefers paper currencies, printed by people like him.

So far, it looks like both Rothschild and Sarkozy have got their timing right. Gold dropped to about $400 in Asia over the weekend. And analysts are now cutting their price targets. UBS Warburg reckons it will drift lower, to $380 an ounce, by the end of the year.

But I don’t think it will plunge — yet. Gold acts as a store of value if paper currencies start depreciating when more and more notes are printed and inflation takes off. This is exactly what has been happening in America. For President Bush has not only deployed the US military in the war on terror, but also the entire economic machinery of government. He has cut taxes dramatically and the Federal Reserve has held interest rates at an emergency one per cent. One Fed governor has even talked openly about printing dollars. As a result, the American economy is now recovering strongly, but inflation is picking up, too. It was 0.5 per cent in March, twice the level expected.

American money, sprayed out of the White House like Texan barbecue fuel, has been flooding into the highways and byways of the world economy. China has been positively doused in the stuff and has consequently experienced an inward investment boom. The Chinese economy is on fire and the government is desperately trying to douse the flames, by ordering banks to lend less.

Later this week, the International Monetary Fund holds its spring meeting in Washington, to be attended by all manner of ministers and financiers. The IMF has already chastised the US government for not doing more to control spending and balance its books. Assuming Mr Bush is listening and starts to put his financial house in order and that American interest rates increase soon, gold could plummet. But the sell sign for gold will not really light up until bin Laden is killed or caught, just like the other villains the Rothschilds have seen off throughout their history.

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