There's no single destination for all the money rushing out of gold, says Cameron Brandt, EPFR's director of research. The most popular places for investors now are real estate funds, junk bonds, emerging-market bonds and stocks in big companies that pay dividends. One clear trend that Brandt sees is investors pulling cash out of the safety of money-market funds in search of something better. Some of that money appears to be trickling back into the U.S. stock market.
So where's gold headed next?
The answer depends partly on where you think inflation is headed. At one extreme, Schiff and others in his camp believe the Fed will eventually let inflation loose and gold will hit $2,000.
"They're going to print and print until money is worthless, or they run out of trees," Schiff says. "I think people will look back at this time period and think, 'Wow, what a great opportunity.'"
Others see no reason for gold to resume its climb. They point to a recent academic study that said current consumer prices imply a gold price below $800 an ounce. Gold forecasts from Wall Street banks sit somewhere in the middle.
Samuel Lee, an ETF strategist at Morningstar in Chicago, has less than 5 percent of a portfolio he manages in gold, and plans to keep it that way. He considers gold a protection against inflation over the very long-term — from 50 to 100 years.
Lee says he isn't sure where gold prices are going this year or the next, "but I'm convinced they won't do as well as stocks." He adds, "I'm not really a big believer in gold. I'm fully aware that it can lose me a lot of money. I just care that it gives me some diversification."
With banks looking stable and the economy slowly improving, there's less of a need to hide in the gold market. Fear of another financial crisis has diminished.
Ralph Preston, a market analyst and broker at Heritage West Financial in San Diego, Calif., envisions a few scenarios in which gold could shoot higher this year. If the war in Syria spreads, or if North Korea launches an attack on other countries in Asia, it could head back above $1,900.
"Owning a little bit of gold is probably not a bad idea," he says. "But I don't think we'll be using it to buy groceries someday."
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