Margareta Pagano: Gold should be like Martini; anytime, anyplace, anywhere
Tricky times mean the precious metal is hard to find
Sunday 27 June 2010
If you want to know why gold is soaring, take a look at this 100 trillion dollar note which a friend has just brought back from Zimbabwe, where it was given to him by a taxi driver as small change.
Old trillion dollar notes like this one are barely worth even a cup of tea after Zimbabwe's hyperinflation forced the government to drop its currency in favour of the US dollar in April last year. My gold-trader friend, Ross Norman, was in Zimbabwe hunting down the yellow stuff because, with demand so high on the world market, it is worth prospecting again even in such a tricky country, where so many of the mines have been closed due to civil strife.
Behind the latest gold boom is fear. It's fear of inflation and tough times ahead, with much of the physical demand coming from small retail investors across Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria where there has been a gold-rush ever since the sovereign debt crisis exploded over Greece earlier this year. Figures from the Perth Mint, which produces 6 per cent of the world's gold bullion, show that in May buyers from the Continent accounted for nearly 70 per cent of all the gold coins bought compared with some 50 per cent a year ago.
Demand reached a climax a couple of weeks ago when exporters couldn't ship enough gold into Germany to meet the demand, which peaked when EU ministers met for emergency talks to agree the €750bn (£620bn) fund to support the euro during this fragile time. German families have already lost their savings twice over the past century, from hyperinflation and war, and they are quite understandably terrified that they may lose their fortunes again.
So it really was a little bit much, and simplistic of billionaire hedge-fund tycoon George Soros, when in a speech last week he compared the Germans to Procrustes, the nasty Greek demigod who chopped the legs off people who couldn't fit on to his iron bed. Soros made the comparison because the Germans, he said, were behaving like Procrustes by inflicting a bed of deflation on the eurozone by refusing to reflate like the US and the UK. Soros likes to exaggerate but this time the man who broke sterling has gone over the top as the latest figures show that Germany now accounts for nearly a third of all eurozone gross domestic product, and is on the road to growth despite its austerity budget. German companies are doing far more than any of their neighbours in keeping up investment while unemployment is down.
Nor is Germany the only country terrified of inflation. In the US, the Mint also sold a record amount of coins last month, while the South Africans have been churning out Krugerrands, which are selling at a 25-year high. Over the past year, about half of all the gold produced from mines around the world was bought for investment, either by institutional investors through Exchange Traded Funds, or by small investors buying gold coins and bars. Here in the UK, demand is also rising as investors seek to hedge against inflation. But apart from buying on eBay, where prices are typically at a 20 per cent premium to the spot price, it's still hard to get access to the real stuff. Ross Norman hopes to change all that by selling small gold bars – about £85 for a tenth of an ounce – or coins, either on TV, online or at ATMs ( as they do in Dubai). Gold should be like Martini – available any time, any place and anywhere.
WAG scores: Rooney is the new face of Littlewoods
If Coleen Rooney continues to pull off deals like her £2m signing with Littlewoods, she may start out-running husband Wayne, a feat which some say would be rather easy on current form.
It's a lot of money, even for a football WAG, but you have to say that it's nice to see a footballer's wife actually working for a living – even if it is modelling the catalogue's autumn campaign rather than shopping herself.
Much of the blame for England's poor showing in South Africa has been based on the notion that our footballers are so third-rate because they paid far too much – they are – but this isn't the only reason. Why can't we accept that so many of the teams from the emerging world and those from countries where football is still relatively new - like the Japanese, the South Koreans and even the Algerians, are just getting rather good at the beautiful game? That would be so much more generous than all the moaning.
Meanwhile, today, Rooney can really show us he's worth all that money.
What a pity BP didn't realise – a younger man isn't necessarily a better man
The reason Sir John Parker, the formidable chairman of the Anglo American mining giant, did not secure the chair of BP, nearly a year ago, was that he was thought too old. Sir John, who is 68, was one of the favoured candidates to take over from Peter Sutherland. You can see why Sir John would have been a catch; he's one of the UK's foremost industrialists, he's chaired eight companies (he's still chairman of National Grid) and he's had hands-on experience of industries ranging from mining to ports and energy. But I'm told the BP board, advised by head-hunter Anna Mann, wanted a younger man, who could do the job for at least 10 years. The board's next choice was Paul Skinner, 64, but he turned down the job because he was still sorting out Rio Tinto, and is now on the BP board as a non-executive.
Instead of Parker, the board turned to Carl-Henric Svanberg, 58, the unknown and untested Swedish telecoms businessman who has proved a complete lightweight and way out of his depth following the Deepwater catastrophe, which has brought the oil giant to its knees – and saw its shares collapse again on Friday. The way BP's top executives have managed the Gulf oil spill has been a disaster from beginning to end, and I don't just mean in PR terms. It's not enough to blame President Barack Obama – although he's been out of order too – for the way BP has been pilloried; the problems go deeper. With a strong chairman and a tough board working together, the oil spill could have been handled very differently. Indeed, it may never have happened, as risk issues may have been looked after differently too.
The moral of the story is this – either someone is right for the job, or not. Sir John, whatever his age, has more energy than BP's whole board put together, and to reject him as "too old" is frankly silly – and just not a good enough excuse. Well, now they know.
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