When will the Gold Bull Market turn into a Mania?

As our readers may know, we’re suckers for the theory that markets move in generational cycles. The basic idea is that the knee-jerk reaction is often the strongest one and that investors have a tendency to ‘stick to what they know’. The length of the prime of one generation’s career seems to be a suitable period of time for such ‘things that people know’ to become firmly lodged. Ironically, such lodging is a dire circumstance in a business that amounts to pseudo-futurology. More specifically we might say that investors often become convinced that strong and persistent price trends of the past are a matter of permanence (particularly if the entirety of their career confirms that intellectual conviction). Extrapolation is the name of the consensual speculator’s game, and so, anti-extrapolation must be the name of ours! Timing, as we all know, is incredibly difficult when it comes to the speculative financial markets. However, here I’ll endeavor to speculate as to when the gold bull market might go into ‘mania mode’.


[NOTE: If you already believe that we’ve reached this ‘mania mode’ with respect to gold, I invite you to read this (and this) and to listen to this interview with Marc Faber.]


Who’s In Charge?


Ok, so if we’re to deal with timing in terms of generations, then let’s quickly think about whom we’re dealing with. With the assumption that the prime of a person’s career spans from around 25 years old to 60 years old, we can assume that the majority of people in the investment business were born between the years 1950 and 1985. Moreover, most of the guys that are managing portfolios of assets (35-55 year olds) probably began their careers between the years of 1975 and 1995.


The Parabolic Price Rise of the Late-70s and Early-80s:


And so it is revealed that the older proportion of today’s investment community witnessed and probably got caught up in the mania of the late-1970s to early 1980s! As can be seen from the charts below, the price of gold went parabolic during that period:


Gold Price Since the Early 1930s

Click to enlarge. Source: World Gold Council


Gold Mania of the Late 1970s

Click to enlarge. Source: World Gold Council


The Implications of the Price Spike – Rationalizations for Avoiding Gold:


Moreover, combine that early folly with the fact that gold took out its 1980 high only a few years ago. For a long time, there has been a supposedly practical ‘justification’ for avoiding gold. Gold – they say – ‘does nothing‘. In 1990, the investment community could have said that ‘gold has collapsed for a decade’, in 2000 the investment community could have said that ‘gold is useless, and always goes down’, and in 2010 the investment community could have said that ‘gold – the supposed inflation hedge – has declined in real terms over the past 30 years’.


The Platform to Repeat the Mistakes of the Generation Above…


The assumption that we put forward is that the older proportion of the investment community is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of its early-years. So, as a matter of timing, the gold mania may only arrive once their collegial descendants have the platform to repeat their mistakes. That is, once the guys who lived through the gold bubble have stepped down from managing the major investment portfolios of the world. So, if the older proportion of the investment community began the primes of their careers in 1975, then perhaps we need another 5-10 years to see another epic mania in gold!


If you’re skeptical about this notion, then I urge you to consider the following: After the epic housing bubble experienced in the US in the past decade, and the subsequent collapses of illusory fortunes, do you really expect the same people to make the same mistakes in the primes of their lives? I would suspect not. I would suspect that the wounds from that epic fall from grace would remain for years and years to come. [That's not to say that house prices won't rise, but rather that they're probably not going rise parabolically for at least another generation.]


Gold represented a similar folly. As Marc Faber said in a recent interview, (paraphrasing) ‘During the gold mania of the late 1970s, the whole world was watching gold day and night‘.




Seemingly, nothing is more compelling than experiences of the past. Here in 2011, this brings about a peculiar scenario where the investment community is divided between people who’ve ‘seen the follies of gold’ and people who have not. In order to relive a 1970s-style adventure in the gold market, we might have to wait another 5-10 years. Only then will the investment community consist of people who had not been burnt by the events of the late-1970s and early-1980s.


In the meanwhile, we should be patient, observant and vigilant to the progression of our valuation methods. Hopefully, if we remain contrary in our thought, we’ll be able to spot the opportune times to sell.

See here for our collection of rare historical economic data.

Posted Jul 19, 2011