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Gold Seen Outperforming Silver In Coming Weeks As European Debt Crisis Continues

(Kitco News) -- Gold’s recent outperformance against silver may continue for another several weeks to months as Europe’s debt problems continue to fester, analysts say.

They attribute this in part to a greater tendency toward gold as a safe haven by large entities, funds and high-net-worth individuals during a time of crisis. Also, any economic fallout from the European debt saga could adversely affect industrial consumption of silver, which accounts for a far larger share of silver’s overall demand than with gold.

The gold/silver ratio is calculated by dividing the price of an ounce of gold by the price of an ounce of silver. Early Tuesday afternoon Eastern time, the ratio was  around 43.7-to-1, and analysts queried by Kitco News envision a move to the 45-50 area in the coming weeks. When the ratio rises, it signals a stronger performance by gold relative to silver, and vice-versa.

Gold has risen so far this week on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while silver fell. The environment has been one in which market participants have been seeking safety in gold—sending it to record highs in euro and British pound terms—while silver at times was caught up in “risk-off” liquidation with global equities and a number of other commodities, including base and platinum group metals.

During the last couple of weeks, much of the focus in financial markets was on Greece’s debt problems, with Portugal entering the fray following a ratings downgrade. This week, there are worries about Italy and Spain as well, with yields for bonds of these countries rising.

When such crises occur, gold tends to be the most sought-after metal for a safe haven, said David Morgan, independent precious-metals analyst with Silver-Investor.com.

“That means there is more pressure for gold to go up than for silver to go up,” he said. “That implies that the ratio will be favorable to gold over silver at this time.”

Morgan  looks for the gold/silver ratio to hit 50-to-1 or higher in the next few months, even though he still expects  it to head sharply lower in the longer term.

This is partially because  a number of traders have taken out bets that gold will in fact outperform silver. Spread traders do this by buying gold and selling silver in equal dollar amounts. They would then profit even if both rise, provided that gold rises more than silver.

The European crisis is likely to remain on traders’ radars for some time to come, unless there is a meaningful resolution, said Sterling Smith, commodity trading advisor and market analyst with Country Hedging. For now, European finance officials have been providing bailout loans while encouraging nations such as Greece to undertake austerity measures. Analysts often describe the net effect as “kicking the can down the road,” or only delaying the financial quagmire.

“We kicked Greece’s can down the road a little bit, and the can doesn’t seem to be rolling as far,” Smith said. “And now we have Italy being a concern and Spain being in the on-deck circle.

“This is a problem that is not going to melt away. Until it is fully addressed, I can see this as being beneficial to gold, albeit causing some volatility.”

Some of the dollar’s sharp gains against the euro lately offset some of the flight-to-safety buying of gold, said Bill O’Neill, one of the principals with LOGIC Advisors. Still, the European crisis, with its more recent emphasis in Italy, means buying for the metal should continue.

“I think the market is headed for new highs and eventually over $1,600…The debt situation is worsening and becoming something of a contagion,” O’Neill said. “That’s the kind of stuff that gold thrives on. It comes down to gold as the ultimate currency.”

Further, he added, funds are returning to the market after long liquidation earlier this summer.

Silver Seen Lagging Due To Economic Concerns

But while Comex August gold gained $7.60 an ounce on Monday, September silver lost 84.5 cents. Those trends were continuing late into the Comex pit session on Tuesday.

Smith foresees an uptick in the gold/silver ratio to around the 45 area in the next six to 12 weeks. Mike Zarembski, senior commodities analyst with optionsXpress, looks for a greater gain to around 50.

“I don’t think silver is in a position where we will see it get run over. It will probably climb a little bit,” Smith said.

Nevertheless, he and others—some of whom do anticipate an outright pullback in silver—say silver is likely to lag on worries about its industrial demand.

“I think we’re going to see gold gain on silver, especially as the risk-off mentality takes place,” Zarembski said. “If things start to really heat up and concerns really start to mount, that spread could jump to 50-plus probably fairly quickly as traders liquidate riskier assets.”

During 2010 and into the early months of 2011, the gold/silver ratio narrowed considerably to 33-to-1, which meant silver at the time was outperforming, on ideas that the economy was improving. Perceived economic gains meant increased industrial demand for silver, in addition to its role as a monetary asset. But with economic headwinds—such as Friday’s soft U.S. employment report and potential fallout from the European debt issues—this industrial demand may end up not being as robust as once thought, at least in the short to medium term.

“With the economic data we’re seeing here (in the U.S.) and Europe, and slowing in China, the industrial side of the market doesn’t look that good,” O’Neill said.

Silver fell back sharply on long liquidation this spring after hitting a three-decade high near $50 an ounce. The volatility may have left some fund managers reluctant to pile back into the metal, Smith and O’Neill said.

Still, some observers said that silver eventually should make gains against gold again.

“Longer term, once everything is washed out…that could be an opportunity to get long in the industrial metals versus gold,” Zarembski said.

If the gold/silver ratio does hit 50-to-1 or higher, Morgan looks for it to eventually fall again.

In the near term, central banks, other financial institutions and wealthy individuals “with really big money are going to move into gold for safety,” he said.

“They are going to be the first to the lifeboats. After that, if it (European debt contagion) continues to deteriorate, then you’ll see the average person start to move. Their move will be somewhat into gold but primarily into silver.”