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Is There Really a Gold Bubble?


Or does it have some major catching up to do?

As shoppers were emptying their purses on Black Friday bargains, Dubai's attempt to reschedule its debt roiled financial markets, plunging risky assets into the red. The government of Dubai requested a six-month payment freeze on the $59 billion debt issued by Dubai World -- a state-owned conglomerate that's become known for its extravagant real estate projects.

Worries about Dubai's debt woes rattled investors' confidence, precipitating a sell-off in equities, high-yielding corporate bonds, commodities and the Baltic Dry Index, while mature-market government debt, the US dollar and the Japanese yen attracted safe-haven buyers. On Thursday and Friday, many emerging-market and high-yielding currencies declined sharply.

A fact not widely known is that Dubai has the worst debt per capita in the world. Ah well…

The credit-rating agencies promptly downgraded Dubai's government-related debt and the cost of insuring against default jumped across the United Arab Emirates region. As shown in the Bloomberg screenshot below, courtesy of Bespoke, the price of Dubai's sovereign debt credit default swap (CDS) last week spiked up to 541 basis points. "Now that global markets have stabilized and exited crisis mode, an isolated event in Dubai where default risk doesn't even spike to its 2009 highs [of almost 1,000 basis points] has caused a global market selloff," remarked Bespoke.

Geoffrey Yu, strategist at UBS, said (via the Financial Times): "Although the majority of market observers believe the problems in Dubai are not insurmountable, the wider fallout has simply revealed how fragile markets are -- and risk appetite may not be as strong as previously assumed, regardless of how profligate central banks globally have been in providing liquidity."

Also as reported by the Financial Times, Julian Jessop of Capital Economics argued that Dubai's move was unlikely to affect the positive outlook for emerging markets in the longer term: "We do not believe the events in Dubai mark a new phase in the global crisis. But if they are the catalyst for a more selective approach to investment, that might be no bad thing."

In terms of banks' exposure to Dubai, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) comments (via The Big Picture) that the Royal Bank of Scotland underwrote more Dubai World loans than any other institution. In terms of capital at risk, HSBC has the largest exposure to the UAE.

The past week's performance of the major asset classes is summarized by the chart below. Gold bullion (not shown on the graph) touched a record high of $1,194.90 on Thursday before tumbling to $1,136.80, but subsequently recovered to close 2.4% up for the week at $1,177.63. Similar volatility was seen in the oil price, with West Texas Intermediate Crude declining by more than $5 at one point on Friday, but later regaining some ground to end the week 1.8% down at $76.05.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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