Profiting in a 'Gold Bubble'
George Soros has helped drive up gold prices by more than doubling his bet in a market even he calls a "bubble." Soros Fund Management, which oversees about $25 billion, increased its investment in SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), the world's largest exchange-traded fund for gold, by 152% in the fourth quarter, a Feb. 16 Securities & Exchange Commission filing shows. Goldman Sachs (GS), Barclays Capital (BCS), and HSBC Holdings all predict more gains in gold before any bubble bursts. Goldman expects the metal, trading around $1,113 an ounce, to hit $1,235 in three months and $1,380 in 12 months. HSBC says it may peak at $1,300 this year. While prices have fallen 8.2% since reaching a record $1,226 on Dec. 3, 15 of 22 analysts in a Bloomberg survey see gold reaching a new high, with the median forecast predicting a 15% advance to as much as $1,300 an ounce in 2010. Gold is up about 22% in the past 12 months and the same amount since the start of the third quarter, when Soros accumulated 2.44 million shares of SPDR Gold Trust.
Risk Riddle: Are Stocks Getting Safer?
Prices in the options market show that investing in U.S. stocks is getting safer—or do they? The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX), which measures the expected volatility of the S&P 500, notched its third consecutive weekly drop on Feb. 26, to 19.5. The gauge has averaged 20.3 since 1990 and moves in the opposite direction of stocks more than 80% of the time. While volatility has fallen in 2010, the probability of wider price swings is up: The cost of buying an options contract that protects against a drop in the S&P 500 over the next two years has risen to the highest level since November 2007, a month after U.S. stocks peaked. Such bearish options cost 1.42 times as much as contracts that are a bet on the stock market rising. That's one of the highest readings in five years. A bearish Mohamed El-Erian, co-chief investment officer for bond giant Pacific Investment Management, says falling volatility means government spending masks a stagnating economy that will keep returns below average.
An Ad for Interpublic
Shares of one of the top U.S. advertising firms, Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG), are up 22%, to 8, since its fourth-quarter sales exceeded Wall Street expectations on Feb. 26. Although revenues were down 5.3% from a year earlier, that was the smallest sales decline in a year. JPMorgan (JPM) analyst Alexia Quadrani and her team believe that the strong performance in the quarter shows that "weakness in ad spending is moderating." Interpublic CEO Michael Roth says he detects "encouraging signs on the spend side, and of course General Motors is back to spending." Part of the firm's improving results stem from how "management was more aggressive [than peers] in reducing costs," according to a Mar. 1 Jefferies & Co. (JEF) report. Credit Suisse (CS) analyst Peter Stabler noted in a report on Feb. 28 that Interpublic's stock could trade as high as 10 within 12 months.