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What’s Behind the Gold Rush?

Shaky financial institutions and fears of inflation make a risky investment hot again.

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— Photo by Anthony Bradshaw/Getty Images

And they point out that gold can be a bad bet—especially after a batch of good economic news. On just a single Friday, last Dec. 4, gold fell a stunning $48.60 an ounce after a surprisingly good report on jobs in the U.S. Old-time traders recall the early 1980s, when the price fell from about $850 an ounce to below $300 in the space of 2 1/2 years.

Another cause of concern: declining demand by jewelers. Gold consumption fell 34 percent in the third quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, according to the World Gold Council, an association of gold mining companies. Jewelers, who typically account for about two-thirds of all gold purchases, bought 30 percent less in the quarter—a sign that a rising price of gold can curb jewelry consumers’ appetites.

Indeed, at Fort Knox, the high prices are attracting far more sellers than buyers these days, Linda Wright says. “At prices this high, a lot of folks look into their jewelry cases for the bracelets and necklaces they aren’t wearing any more. For them it’s a good way to earn a little extra cash around the holidays.”

Michael Zielenziger writes about business and the economy. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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