Talk Money with Tony Field – July 21, 2015

China said it had increased its gold reserves by 57 percent to the end of June (file)
China said it had increased its gold reserves by 57 percent to the end of June (file)

Gold has plunged to its lowest level in over five years and is now 40 percent below its peak.

Back in September 2011 it reached a high point of US$1921 an ounce. This morning it was trading for US$1107.

The precious metal is traditionally seen as a safe haven in volatile times, but gold has been falling in price because investors believe the world economy is improving.

Gold prices peaked at a time when many investors were worried the United States would suffer from inflation due to the Federal Reserve's 'quantitative easing' program.

The Fed was effectively printing money to give the economy a boost. Four years on and the QE program has ended, the US economy has improved and there has not been rampant inflation.

Another factor in the falling prices has been China. Prices dropped as much as 4 percent overnight after new figures were released showing the Chinese government has not stockpiled as much gold as had been expected.

China said it had increased its gold reserves by 57 percent to the end of June, compared with the last time it revealed reserve figures, in 2009.

But the rise was below analysts' expectations. Gold accounts for 1.65 percent of China's total foreign exchange reserves, compared with 1.8 percent in June 2009.

Silver and platinum are also at lows not seen for more than five years. Where to from here is anyone's guess.

Then-Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told a Senate banking committee in July 2013 that "Nobody really understands gold prices and I don't pretend to understand them either." He'd been asked why gold prices were volatile.

Gold dealers NZ Mint say they have had a couple of million-dollar purchases in recent days. So yes, gold is falling in price, but for every seller there is always a buyer.

Here is my chat with Paul Henry about gold.

It is worth noting the investment returns for New Zealand gold investors are altered by the movement of the New Zealand dollar.

The peak price of US$1921 in September 2011 equated to NZ$2312 at the time. The price now of US$1107 converts to NZ$1683, so investors have lost money in both US and New Zealand dollars.

But if they had bought gold a year ago they would have come out ahead, despite the falling gold price (down 15 percent). That is because the New Zealand dollar has fallen even more (down 26 percent).

Gold was trading for US$1310 a year ago, which converted at that time to NZ$1622.

If you convert the current price of US$1107 to New Zealand dollars it is $1683, up from NZ$1622 a year ago.

Of course, gold sceptics will argue that New Zealand stocks or Auckland housing would have produced a better return. So too would US stocks, especially if you factor in the falling New Zealand dollar.

Finance Minister Bill English has returned from his second visit to China in a month.

As well as meeting senior government officials and business people, he saw for himself some of China's empty apartment buildings.

Some China sceptics have been pointing to the empty housing developments as proof that China's economy is heading for a nasty correction.

Bill English told Paul Henry that the empty apartments are part of what has been years of investment in infrastructure by the Chinese government. Lots of new roads are another sign of that spending.

English says the infrastructure spending is now slowing, but he believes New Zealand's economy is diverse enough to cope.

He says that consumer spending in China is what really matters to New Zealand.

English's critics will say that dairy spending is slowing. But English told Paul Henry that New Zealand's tourism, meat, wool, kiwifruit and IT sectors are all holding up.

He did acknowledge another potential concern. China is keen to ramp up its dairy production which will mean even more challenges for our dairy sector.

Here is Paul Henry's interview with Bill English.

The New Zealand dollar has gained against all the major currencies this morning.

It was trading at 65.73 US cents at 8am, up almost 1 percent. It was buying 89.14 Australian cents. The kiwi was trading at 42.23 pence and 60.68 euro.

Shares in PayPal Holdings have risen 5 percent, after their return to the US share market. At one point they were 11 percent higher.

PayPal has been spun out of eBay.

The online payments company was founded in the late 1990s by venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Telsa Motors CEO Elon Musk. It listed in 2002 and was bought by eBay shortly after for US$1.5 billion.

It is now valued around US$50 billion. That is quite a return for investors.

Activist investor Carl Icahn had been calling for the two companies to split because he believed it would give them both more flexibility.

The two companies are not entirely going their own ways. They have agreed that eBay will continue to channel the same number of transactions through PayPal for the next five years.

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