Tough times ahead as gold slide flashes warning signs for global economy

GoldSome see the move in gold as a possible flashpoint for a broader economic and markets shock. (Reuters)

The plunge in the gold price in the past week may have raised a big red flag over the global economy.

Some top investors say the gold sell-off, and the broader declines in oil and metals prices, reflect the failure of the Federal Reserve and other central banks to create robust demand even as they inject massive amounts of money into the world financial system.

The slide, which took gold to its biggest one-day loss ever in dollar terms on Monday, unnerved investors who saw billions of dollars in gains wiped out in a few days, and it may portend declines in other asset prices ahead. That may have begun this week with several days of big stock price drops.

Some see the move in gold as a possible flashpoint for a broader economic and markets shock comparable to the collapse of hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 and even the financial crisis a decade later. Both events were preceded by sharp drops in gold.

The gold and commodities weakness is "signaling concerns about global growth," said Mohamed El-Erian, the co-chief investment officer of PIMCO, which oversees $2 trillion in assets. "Commodities have been sending the signal on growth for a while, and now even louder."

And after the stampede out of gold earlier this week, investors on Thursday dumped their holdings of U.S. inflation bonds after a lousy auction. This kind of debt is seen as a way to protect against any rise in the inflation rate that might materialize in a more buoyant economy.

The post-crisis run-up in gold prices resulted in part from speculation triggered by the massive amounts of cash created by aggressive monetary policy. It had been thought that the massive creation of credit would support a "re-inflation" of the world economy - but the recent pullback in gold, oil and copper the latter two assets linked closely with global industrial growth suggests that this may just not be happening.

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