Investors' gold dilemma: Buy on a dip, or wait
Thursday's slide may continue, but so should the longer-term rally.
By Alexandra Twin, senior writer

NEW YORK ( - A plunge in gold prices and stocks Thursday may have been just the start of a needed correction in a sector that has surged substantially of late, analysts said.

As such, investors who are thinking of using the pullback as a point to get into gold through exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds and gold stocks may want to wait a bit longer.

That's not to say that the price of gold and the underlying stocks won't move higher again -- most analysts say the so-called 'gold bull market' is far from over. However, both the price of gold and the underlying stocks could see further declines before the next leg up, the analysts said.

Gold has rallied around $160 over the last six months through Wednesday's close, with more than $100 of that amount coming since January. Over the last few weeks, gold has settled repeatedly at levels not seen since 1980, when it peaked at $875.

Gold stocks have surged in tandem, with the Amex Gold Bugs (Research) index rallying 44 percent over the last six months through Wednesday's close.

Why is that?

Gold is traditionally a hedge against inflation, a so-called safe-haven investment. In a time when interest rates are rising, crude oil is at an all-time high and the 10-year note yield is near a four-year high, investors are certainly looking for a safer place to park their money.

But the rally in the metal, particularly since it passed $500 last fall, slipped and then recharged in December, has also brought in a lot of new investors, particularly hedge funds and other big institutions. It's also been fueled by short covering -- in which those betting that gold prices would fall have had to rush in to buy gold to cover their bets.

The commodity has taken on such an appeal to investors that it is no longer reliant on a weak dollar to rise. Traditionally, a strong dollar would knock down gold, a dollar-traded commodity. But that hasn't been true over the last few years, as the U.S. dollar and gold have been rising. Should the U.S. dollar decline, as it has been lately, that would only make the price of gold more appealing to investors, particularly overseas.

Additionally, "the biggest factor is people's unwillingness to sell gold, and that means the supply has fallen below demand," said Julian Phillips, a gold analyst for and

A necessary pullback?

Analysts say demand for the commodity as well as global economic growth projections are likely to continue to drive the price of gold higher going forward. In addition, many of the gold stocks have not risen as aggressively as the commodity price, suggesting that there are still values to be found.

Nonetheless, with the price of gold having run up so much recently, industry experts have been calling for a big correction for some time.

Thursday may have brought the first step of that, when COMEX gold for June delivery fell $12.90 to $623.10 an ounce, a decline of about 2 percent.

The Amex Gold Bugs (down $25.90 to $359.40, Research) index lost 6.7 percent and the Philadelphia Gold and Silver (down $9.77 to $150.16, Research) index lost 6.1 percent Thursday.

Considering the run up, the declines were pretty modest.

Regarding the price of the commodity, "I think we'll ultimately rally back and go a bit higher, but the bulk of the advance we've seen has not been digested," said Peter Grandich, editor of metals and mining newsletter Grandich Letter.

Grandich says he could see the price falling to around $575 to $580 per ounce before it moves back up. That would represent a decline of about 7 to 8 percent from Thursday's close.

Phillips is not sure it has to decline as much as that, but he says that it leapt through $600 too quickly and that it may need to slide down to about $605 per ounce, before the next leap up.

Kerry Smith, a gold stock analyst at Haywood Securities said that gold prices and gold stocks may not need to consolidate much further before rising again, if recent history is to be trusted.

"Over the last 13 months, it's been appropriate for investors to buy on the dips, and I don't think this will prove to be different," Smith said, noting that investors should probably wait a few more days to reconsider until more of the declines are flushed out.

He said Thursday's decline was not about any change in the fundamentals of what has been driving gold and gold stocks higher, but was more about traders taking profits. It was also psychological in nature, with a steeper selloff in the price of silver and silver stocks then spilling into gold and other base metals.

Smith says he hasn't seen the kind of rush into gold stocks -- and certainly not gold mutual funds, which haven't matched the stocks or ETFs -- that would suggest, well, a fool's gold mentality.

So far this earnings period, the sector has done well, with Newmont Mining (Research) basically meeting forecasts and Alcoa (Research) beating. Strong earnings and higher demand should continue to drive the stocks going forward.

But that doesn't more selling isn't on tap first. Phillips thinks the Amex Gold Bugs should hit support at about $350. It closed at $359.40 on Wednesday. Top of page

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