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17 Nov 2009

Can precious metals keep on flying?

The precious metal outperformed every major equity index in the world in 2008. The question is, can gold—and other precious metals—keep on flying? Or would buying today be buying high and selling low?

Precious metals have always been intriguing to investors because they tend to hold their value. In times of geopolitical crisis or currency devaluation, for example, the value of paper money might fluctuate, but a hard asset will always be worth something. As a result, historically, precious metals have been considered a “safe haven” in times of economic and financial instability.

That brings us to why gold is on a tear today. It declined in 2008 and early 2009 as panicked investors rushed into cash in an attempt to weather the financial crisis. But sometime in the middle on 2009, when investors began to move their money from the sidelines, gold started to rally. It returned 32.59% through the third quarter of 2009, vs. 19.26% for stocks.

The question is, where can we expect gold to go from here? In order to predict whether gold prices will skyrocket or come crashing down, it’s important to understand the principal factors that affect the price of any commodity: supply and demand.

The supply side of the equation is not particularly relevant in regard to gold because gold supplies remain fairly constant. That’s because production has not significantly increased due to a lack of new mining sites. Should supplies increase, however, investors may want to be cautious.

The demand side of the equation, then, is the one gold investors must look at. And as we noted above, demand for gold tends to increase when investors have a lack of confidence in the U.S. economy and financial markets.

That’s certainly the case today. In fact, we see two factors, that could lead gold to outperform in the near future: inflation and currency devaluation. In response to the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the Federal Reserve injected massive amounts of liquidity into the money markets. Ultimately, that increase in the money supply could devalue the U.S. dollar and lead to inflation. In fact, the U.S. dollar is already shockingly low. On October 14, 2009, it fell to a 14-month low against the euro, hitting $1.4947, the weakest since August 2008, according to Bloomberg. And while inflation is not yet a problem, economists are on the lookout for it.

These conditions led Standard & Poor’s (S&P) to raise its gold price assumption for 2010 from $750 per ounce to $800 per ounce. “Investors seeking a hedge against inflation risks and uncertainty in the financial markets continue to support gold prices,” the S&P analysts write. “The metal's properties as a safe haven, and to a lesser extent the demand for jewelry, also support its longer-term price prospects.”

S&P’s estimate, however, may be on the low side. As of November 2009, gold was trading at more than $1,000 per ounce. And since gold exceeded $1,000 per ounce level, the price has been extremely resilient, with no meaningful pullback seen. There have been periods of profit-taking, but increased demand quickly appears on any weakness in price.

In sum, then, good old-fashioned gold fever is back—and investors who are looking for a promising trend may want to consider investing in it and other precious metals.

But don’t consider gold an investment only for troubled times. One of the greatest advantages of precious metals exists regardless of economic and market conditions. Precious metals tend to perform differently from other assets. As a result, investing in precious metals may be a good diversification strategy for a portfolio comprised mainly of stocks, bonds and real estate—in all environments.

This article was written by - who offer free information and analysis on Energy and Commodities. The site has sections devoted to Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy, Metals, Oil prices and Geopolitics.

The Untapped Energy Riches of Uzbekistan -

While many Western investors remain fixated on somehow acquiring a slice of Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches, despite a recent scandal over the country’s actual reserves, there is another country further east whose energy and mineralogical reserves have been overlooked – Uzbekistan.

While a number of factors are responsible for this oversight, including relative geographical isolation (Uzbekistan, along with Liechtenstein, is one of the world’s doubly landlocked nations, requiring crossing two other nations to gain access to the oceans), which currently limits energy exports available for the global market, there are a number of pluses that the country has for investors willing to “think outside the box.”

With a population of 27 million, Uzbekistan is Central Asia's most populous and dominant power. A conservative fiscal policy since 1991, including inconvertibility of the national currency, the som, has shielded its citizens from the hyperinflation that ravaged other former Soviet republics, but the policy previously diminished potential foreign investment.

Since the global recession that began a year ago, however, Uzbekistan’s fiscal conservatism, previously dismissed by the foreign investment community, has looked more and more like a pragmatic policy that isolated the country from the worst aspects of the recession in stark contrast to other post-Soviet states that fervently embraced free market capitalism like Lithuania, whose economy contracted 18.1% this year and is expected to shrink further by 3.9% in 2010. In a move certain to be welcomed by foreign investor Uzbekistan is slowly moving towards making its currency convertible but whenever it happens, for the present the country offers a fiscal stability unmatched by many of its more free-market neighbors.

And now, the good news about the country’s resources. In 2006 Uzbekistan's natural gas reserves were estimated at 1.798 trillion cubic meters (tcm). During the Soviet era Uzbekistan was the USSR’s third-largest producer of natural gas, accounting for more than 10% of the Soviet Union’s production, trailing only Russia and Turkmenistan. In 1992, the country’s first year of independence, Uzbekistan produced 42.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas. Uzbekistan currently produces 60 bcm of natural gas annually, an amount nearly equal to Turkmenistan's production. Uzbekistan’s reserves are primarily concentrated in Qashqadaryo province and near Bukhara in the country’s south-central region. During the 1970s Uzbekistan’s largest natural gas deposit at Boyangora-Gadzhak was discovered in Surkhandaryia province north of the Afghan border.

Unlike its energy-rich neighbors to the West, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, nearly 80 percent of Uzbekistan's production, about 48.4 bcm, is currently reserved for domestic use at heavily subsidized rates. Of the remaining 12 bcm of natural gas that Uzbekistan exports, more than half currently goes to Russia, with the remainder to neighboring Central Asian states.

Under Uzbekistan’s fiercely patriotic President Islam Karimov relations with Europe’s favorite bête noire, Russia ’s state-owned gas firm Gazprom, have been subject to fierce negotiations to win an equitable price for the country’s exports. Like other former Soviet republics, the Uzbek government chafed under Gazprom's "buy cheap, sell dear" policies and in early December 2008 scored a significant negotiating success by getting an agreement that in 2009 Gazprom would pay $305 per thousand cubic meters (tcm). To put the accomplishment in perspective, Uzbekistan’s state gas company Uzbekneftegaz sold gas to Gazprom for $130 per tcm in the first half of 2008, which then rose to $160 in the second half of 2008.

Those betting on the eventual pacification of Afghanistan and the subsequent pipelines that would crisscross the country to deliver Central Asian gas to the massive Pakistani and Indian markets would also do well to take note of Uzbekistan’s persistent, low key policies over more than a decade attempting to bring peace to its hapless southern neighbor. The initiatives put forward by Uzbek President Islom Karimov during the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 take on heightened importance as one of the few foreign policy ideas offering some hope to quelling Afghanistan ’s three decades of turmoil.

Nearly completely overshadowed by the Bush administration’s relentless efforts to have Georgia and Ukraine join the alliance, Karimov proposed that the UN’s Afghanistan "6 plus 2" assembly, established in 1999, be revived by expanding it into a "6 plus 3" ensemble by including NATO because of its anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan among the "six" members Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, China and Iran and the "two," the United States and Russia.

Noting that that it is impossible to solve Afghanistan's problems without the direct involvement of neighboring countries, which have felt the destructive impact of the Afghan crisis for more than 30 years, as Afghanistan's problems are now of global nature, Karimov told his audience in Bucharest that their resolution must also be global, with the participation of members of the international coalition that comprise NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Karimov concluded by noting that the current situation in Afghanistan precludes a purely military solution and that while it is possible to continue increasing the foreign military presence there, without a clear model of national reconciliation it will be impossible to end the conflict.

Needless to say, one of the benefits of peace and the aforementioned pipelines for Uzbekistan would be that it could export its surplus gas through Afghanistan to southern Asian markets for a higher price than it receives at home or Gazprom’s miserly accountants. Acting on Tashkent’s belief that economic assistance is of greater utility than military operations, Uzbekistan has become involved in a host of reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, including railways, power generation, mining, agriculture, irrigation, education and the exchange of specialists as well as providing its neighbor with construction materials, metals, fertilizer, food and other goods. Uzbek companies and engineers have built 11 bridges in the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul area and are finishing the construction of a 275-mile high-voltage line capable of transmitting 150 megawatts from Termez to Kabul across some of the world’s most mountainous terrain, which when it becomes fully operational next month, will provide power and light not only to the capital but the country’s five northern provinces.

For now, Uzbekistan remains largely a transit country rather than a net energy exporter in its own right. But the fiercely independent nationalist policy that Tashkent has followed since 1991 indicates that any company whose policies most benefit the country will have an inside track, and as the old saying goes, “fortune favors the bold.” Chinese, Malaysian, Russian and South Korean companies have already begun investing in Uzbekistan’s energy infrastructure – what do they seemingly know that American and European companies do not?

This article was written by John C.K. Daly for - Who offer free information and analysis on Energy and Commodities. The site has sections devoted to Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy, Metals, Oil prices and Geopolitics.

Brevan Howard Hedge Fund Co-Founder To Leave Firm

New York (
- Jean-Philippe Blochet has left Europe's biggest hedge fund firm, Brevan Howard, Bloomberg reports, "Following his return from sabbatical last year, Jean-Philippe Blochet has decided to cease to be an active member of Brevan Howard Asset Management LLP," the firm said in a statement.

Blochet was co-founder of Brevan Howard and was part of the hedge fund firm's macro team, focusing on currencies and interest rates.

Brevan Howard had $25.7 billion in assets under management as of September 2009, it returned more than 20% last year while the average hedge fund lost around 19%.

Also leaving Brevan Howard is UCITS fund manager Stephane Diederich, who was hired from Credit Suisse in 2007 to set up an alternative CDO (collateralized debt obligation) business, an area of the financial world that was hit hard by the credit crisis, Bloomberg reported.

Survey Finds Continued Optimism Towards Hedge Funds Despite 2008 Performance

HedgeCo News Archives - Highlights of a second annual national survey released by Morningstar and Barron’s Magazine examining the perception and usage of alternative investments among institutions and financial advisors showed that hedge funds were the most popular alternative vehicles over the last five years, and institutions and advisors expect to continue to increase allocations to hedge funds over the next five years.

“One of the most interesting findings from our survey is that both institutions and advisors continue to view alternative investments optimistically, despite their questionable performance, correlation, and liquidity during last year’s global downturn as well as the high-profile scandals that rocked the hedge fund industry,” said Steve Deutsch, director of the pension, endowment, and foundation database at Morningstar. “Again this year, the majority of participants indicate that they plan to increase allocations to alternatives, but with greater scrutiny and due diligence given to those investments.”

Among the survey findings:

Current and Future Usage of Alternatives
• More than 60% of institutions and advisors believe that alternatives will be as important or more important than traditional investments over the next five years.
• The majority of institutions and advisors expect alternatives to account for more 10% of their portfolios over the next five years; a quarter of institutions expect alternatives to account for more than 25% of their portfolios.
• Hedge funds were the most popular alternative vehicles over the last five years, and institutions and advisors expect to continue to increase allocations to hedge funds over the next five years.

Motivation and Hesitation
• For both institutions and advisors, the top three reasons for investing in alternatives remain the same as in last year’s survey: portfolio diversification, absolute returns, and exposure to different investment techniques, like arbitrage or shorting.
• Institutions and advisors are much more concerned, however, about lack of liquidity and transparency than they were last year.

Definitions of “alternative”
• Compared to the 2008 survey, fewer institutions and advisors view real estate investment trusts and commodities as alternative asset classes.
• Both institutions and advisors tend to classify investments as “alternative” based on the investment’s strategy, i.e. absolute return, rather than the investment’s designation, i.e. mutual fund versus hedge fund.

“Perhaps most important for investment consultants, advisors, and money management firms to note is the survey once again found that overall both institutions and advisors want the benefits of alternative strategies with the positive characteristics of traditional investments—low correlation with liquidity, absolute returns with transparency, and redemptions without restrictions,” Deutsch added.

Morningstar and Barron’s conducted the Web-based survey in late September through early October 2009; 89 institutions and 300 financial advisors participated. Survey results appear in the Nov. 9 issue of Barron’s and online at