Can gold hit $1,500?

The price of gold is flirting with $1,100 an ounce. Many other precious metals continue to surge. How much higher can gold go - and what's it all mean?

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By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Gold investors are partying like it's 1849.

The price of the yellow precious metal hit yet another all-time high Friday. At nearly $1,100 an ounce, you have to wonder just how much higher gold can go in the next few months. Is it $1200? $1300? Heck, is $1500 out of the question?

The Gold Rush of 2009 has been stunning to watch. Unlike some prior gold price spikes, the "good" news about gold's recent rise is that it does not appear to be due to worries about an imminent meltdown of the financial system. Gold rallied in early 2008, for example, just as Bear Stearns was about to collapse.

Instead, gold has rallied recently as the dollar has weakened. Gold, along with other metals, such as silver and copper, and commodities, like oil, are benefiting from inflation fears.

Investors around the world have fled the dollar due to worries that the massive amounts of money pumped into the U.S. economy by Congress, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve will eventually lead to inflation.

Prior to this week though, many experts thought that the bump in gold had more to do with momentum traders taking advantage of these fears and simply riding a hot hand. But there is now growing evidence that real demand for gold is playing a role in the run as well.

Gold, unlike silver, copper and many other metals, does not have that much of an industrial use. But gold has often been considered the safest of safe havens when the dollar declines. As a hard, tangible asset of value, some investors buy gold as an alternative to the dollar.

The International Monetary Fund announced on Monday that it sold a huge chunk (200 metric tons) of gold to the central bank of India. Now there is chatter that other nations may also want to bulk up on gold.

"More central banks may look to move into gold and out of the dollar. There are some rumblings that it could be like a series of dominos now that India has taken the first step," said Darin Newsom, senior analyst with Televent DTN, a financial markets research firm based in Omaha.

Partly for this reason, Newsom said that it's not out of the question for gold to go as high as about $1,400 an ounce in the next year or so.

Central banks don't appear to be the only big gold buyers. Mining companies are doing so as well.

With gold prices continuing to rise, some producers have announced plans to stop hedging as much (if it all) against the possibility of falling prices. To do that, producers are buying back gold from what is known as their hedge books.

Barrick Gold (ABX) said Monday that it bought back 1 million ounces in October, while AngloGold Ashanti (AU) also announced that day that it intends to reduce the size of its hedge book by 800,000 ounces a year over the next five years. More gold producers may follow suit.

"Gold producers are going to need to close their hedge books because for every dollar that the price of gold goes up, they lose a lot of money," said David Beahm, vice president of economic research with Blanchard & Company Inc., a New Orleans-based investing firm that specializes in gold and other precious metals.

This demand, coupled with more worries about inflation, is likely to lead gold significantly higher, Beahm said. He thinks gold could hit $1,150 by the end of this year and $1,500 by the end of 2010.

"There is no doubt that there will be inflation. It's not a matter of if but a matter of when. And when that happens gold will spike again," he said.

Now of course, it's probably a good idea to still have a healthy dose of skepticism about how much higher gold can go. After all, it was only a year ago that oil spiked above $140 a barrel and many commodity bulls were predicting that crude would hit $200 before long. That didn't happen.

If the economy is really in recovery mode, the Fed will eventually start raising interest rates from their current level of near zero. Once it does that, some of the inflation pressures should subside. That could take some of the air out of the gold run.

But there is also a good chance that gold could gain even more ground over the long haul even if the global economy gets back on track and the dollar strengthens again. It's simple Economics 101.

Marshall Berol, co-manager of the Encompass fund, a mutual fund that is currently investing heavily in commodity-producing companies, said many investors don't realize how much time and effort it takes to produce gold.

And instead of just watching gold trends from afar, Berol said he and his fellow co-manager like to visit projects of companies the fund owns to get a better sense of how supply is shaping up. They have a trip planned to Chile and Argentina next week, for example, to look at mining projects run by Exeter Resources (XRA), one of the fund's holdings.

So even if demand doesn't remain as robust as it is now, Berol thinks a low supply of gold should mean that prices will continue to move up.

"On a day-to-day basis, people talk about gold going up because of the dollar or oil," he said. "But the difficulties in finding significant new deposits is overlooked. Not only do you have to find it but determine how much there is and how you are going to get it out. Bringing new mines to production takes years."

Talkback: Are you buying gold? Selling gold? How much higher do you think gold prices could go? Share your comments below. To top of page

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