Ciner noted that the price of gold dropped Wednesday despite news that Spain had to offer unexpectedly high interest rates to attract investors to buy new government bonds. That suggested that a solution to the European debt troubles is far from over — normally a trigger for buying gold, not selling it.
"It's pretty obvious that gold's character has completely changed," Ciner said. "If it was real safe-haven asset, you would have expected investors to flock to gold."
Bulls pointed out that gold's popularity reflects a widespread skepticism of the financial system and of national currencies — and that investors are fools to feel confident about them.
John Manley, chief equity strategist for Wells Fargo Advantage Funds, said that gold's role as a sort of fourth currency to the three big ones — the dollar, euro and yen — is unlikely to diminish even with those currencies' troubles.
He pointed to the large U.S. debt, Japan's aging population and dissent among European countries about how to solve the debt problem there.
Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, said he thinks gold's popularity reflects the anxiety of our age. The price may change, he said, but an ounce of gold is always bound to be worth something. Old stock certificates, he said, may wind up worth no more than toilet paper.
"The gold rush isn't over," he said. "It's just on pause."
AP Business Writer Pallavi Gogoi contributed to this report.
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