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Golden Slumbers

CAMBRIDGE – In principle, holding gold is a form of insurance against war, financial Armageddon, and wholesale currency debasement. And, from the onset of the global financial crisis, the price of gold has often been portrayed as a barometer of global economic insecurity. So, does the collapse in gold prices – from a peak of $1,900 per ounce in August 2011 to under $1,250 at the beginning of July 2013 – represent a vote of confidence in the global economy?

To say that the gold market displays all of the classic features of a bubble gone bust is to oversimplify. There is no doubt that gold’s heady rise to the peak, from around $350 per ounce in July 2003, had investors drooling. The price would rise today because everyone had become convinced that it would rise even further tomorrow.

Doctors and dentists started selling stocks and buying gold coins. Demand for gold jewelry in India and China soared. Emerging-market central banks diversified out of dollars and into gold.

The case for buying gold had several strong components. Ten years ago, gold was selling at well below its long-term inflation-adjusted average, and the integration of three billion emerging-market citizens into the global economy could only mean a giant long-term boost to demand.