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Billionaires Dump Gold Holdings

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted February 19, 2013

There seems to be some animosity among billionaires toward gold-backed exchange traded funds of late. Just recently, George Soros and Louis Moore Bacon both reduced their stakes.

Soros Management Fund LLC cut its shares in the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSEArca: GLD) by 55 percent, while Moore Capital Management LP not only sold its stake in the SPDR, but also slashed its Sprott Physical Gold Trust (NYSEArca: PHYS) holdings.

John Paulson was the lone one out, with Paulson & Co. maintaining its 21.8 million shares’ stake in the SPDR.

It is more than likely that these movements are the first of a coming wave of reductions in gold holdings, as national and international economic analyses indicate that the world’s economy is slowly recovering.

Indeed, gold has had a lovely 12-year-long bull run as continued stimulus actions and market uncertainties caused investors worldwide to seek refuge in the safe haven gold offered.

But as of last Friday, gold futures dropped to their lowest in five months. Futures for April delivery dropped by 1.8 percent, reaching $1,605.40.

Businessweek reports:

“The reduction in holdings by George Soros may unnerve the market a little bit,” said Nick Trevethan, a senior commodities strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “The market may also be watching Paulson, and those are steady.”

From the heights of futures at $1,923.70 in September 2011, gold has indeed fallen a long way. Hedge funds all over have reduced their reliance on, or confidence in, a return for gold-lust, reducing their bets by nearly 56 percent.

A Bloomberg study indicates that the biggest accelerations in economic growth will occur in the U.S. and China.

However, the U.S. Fed remains committed to purchasing $85 billion a month in securities until the domestic employment figures improve. Moreover, the economy is by no means stable just yet.

These continued uncertainties mean investors still see gold as a reliable safe haven, and the slightest tremors in the U.S. or in the Eurozone could easily set off a quick rally for gold.

Both Germany and France saw their economic performance dip a little last week. And Japan, of course, is in a protracted recession.

An unexpected factor here is Citigroup, which, last Friday, decided to reduce its ratings for gold miners Fresnillo (LON: FRES) and Randgold (LON: RRS) (from neutral to sell) and Petropavlovsk (LON: POG) (from buy to neutral).

MarketWatch reports that the Citi analysis not only accounted for gold’s lackluster performance in recent times, but also pointed toward excessive valuation and gold’s historical long cycles. What’s this long cycle business? Here’s an excerpt from the Citi report, as reported by MarketWatch:

“The problem with gold is that it is a very ‘long cycle’ metal and if it IS in the process of peaking now, then history suggests that it could go into hibernation for a long, long time.”

What this means is that the historical trends for gold markets suggest the metal may not breach $1,950/oz for perhaps two decades. That is assuming we are seeing gold’s peak performance right now.

Further, this means if gold is indeed peaking right now, then the Citi analysis suggests that it will not only experience a very long slide downward in terms of dollar value, but also a long downturn in terms of the time it takes to hit bottom.

At the risk of sounding alarms, here’s the most damning bit from the report, quoted on MarketWatch:

“Of course, it may not be peaking, but our view is that we would need a global systemic risk level HIGHER than 2011 and 2012 to warrant an argument that gold’s bull market is not over. Alternatively, if these general systemic risks (i.e. across all currencies) are not to be gold’s driver, then we need the dollar to collapse in order for gold not to be peaking now.”

“Our ‘fundamental’ argument therefore is that the key drivers that took gold to $1950/oz are weakening, while the key drivers for industrial metals are slowly (albeit painfully slowly) improving.”

But before you panic and dispose of all your gold, let’s remember that these are projections. They aren’t happening right away. Gold remains a highly bankable safe haven.

The economy—both in the U.S. and worldwide—remains unstable, prone to fluctuations, and decidedly not investment-friendly. And central banks all over remain committed to their stimulus programs.

For now, gold buyers don’t really have reason to worry—but they should be aware of shifting winds.