This year's big run-up in gold prices should not scare investors into thinking that inflation is taking off.
Gold selling for more than $400 an ounce makes for good chatter in funeral markets, but many everyday measures df price provide evidence that inflation remains in check.
The message for portfolio managers and individual investors is simple: Inflation is still not a problem, and stocks and bonds remain valid investments if they are bought carefully and held over time to ride out any bumps in the marketplace.
Anthony Karydakis, senior financial economist for First National Bank of Chicago, traces the jump in gold prices, from a low of $330 in January, to several special factors.
None of them tell of an economy that is expanding too rapidly and leading to the classic situation of too many dollars chasing too few goods.
First, Mr. Karydakis notes, the disappointing government statistics on inflation earlier this year prompted Federal Reserve officials to adopt their May policy directive leaning toward a tighter monetary policy.
Though the Fed is still looking for new signs of price pressure, analyst have been reassured by the May and June price data and do not see inflation breaking out of a 3% range anytime soon.
Second, the First Chicago economist points out, there were widely publicized purchases of gold by George Soros, a wellknown global fund manager who predicted gold prices were headed higher. His comments, and others by such prominent market players, as Jim Goldsmith, helped fuel the gold frenzy.
Third, Mr. Karydakis says, cutbacks in production by South Africa and other major gold producers helped buoy prices. Meanwhile, there were reports of unusually large purchases by China and other buyers, for political reasons.
Bond Yields Steady
Mr. Karydakis concludes that the rise in gold prices "has set off a hopelessly false alarm" and says the more impressive event in markets is that bond yields, which normally go up on inflation fears, have held steady.
With stock and bond markets generally strong, gold offered a tempting alternative for investors looking for a place to put their money. And worries about shaky currencies in Europe and elsewhere have encouraged traders to build up their positions in bullion and gold futures as a currency hedge.
Private banks in Europe, U.S. investment banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, and foreign exchange dealers have all been in on the gold-buying binge, says Jeffrey Christian, managing director of CPM Group, a precious-metals consulting firm in New York.
But ordinary investors do not have to look far to be assured that inflation is not building up much steam. And there are plenty of cases where prices are coming down, not going up:
Oil prices have dropped to $18 a barrel, from $19.50 at the beginning of the year, and there has been speculation' that they will go lower if Iraq can ever regain its status as a major exporter.
Phillip Morris Cos. announced that the its price cut in Marlboro cigarettes may be made permanent, suggesting other tobacco prices will be coming down, too, after years of steady increases.
Prices of high-tech footwear that carry endorsements from TV superstars like Michael Jordan have come down below $100, and retailers have slashed prices repeatedly to move inventory.
The continuing war in the computer business is providing more and more processing capabilities at lower prices. J&R Computer World, a discount catalog in New York, lists an IBM PS/1 personal computer with a 486SX Intel processor and a 14-inch color monitor, plus other accessories, at $1,699.
If anyone doubts that retailers are having trouble making prices stick, they only have to ponder the announcement by Procter & Gamble that it is slashing 13,000 jobs, 12% of its work force, and shutting down 30 plants.
Chairman Edwin L. Artzt frankly acknowledged that the company's top-line products, which have long been household names, will have to priced more aggressively to compete with generic brands, which are gaining in popularity.