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As the twin pillars of international monetary system threaten to come tumbling down in unison, gold has reclaimed its ancient status as the anchor of stability. The spot price surged to an all-time high of $1,594 an ounce in London, lifting silver to $39 in its train.
On one side of the Atlantic, the eurozone debt crisis has spread to the countries that may be too big to save – Spain and Italy – though RBS thinks a €3.5 trillion rescue fund would ensure survival of Europe’s currency union.
On the other side, the recovery has sputtered out and the printing presses are being oiled again. Brinkmanship between the Congress and the White House over the US debt ceiling has compelled Moody’s to warn of a "very small but rising risk" that the world’s paramount power may default within two weeks. "The unthinkable is now thinkable," said Ross Norman, director of thebulliondesk.com.
Fed chair Ben Bernanke confessed to Congress that growth has failed to gain traction. "Deflationary risks might re-emerge, implying a need for additional policy support," he said.
The bar to QE3 – yet more bond purchases – is even lower than markets had thought. The new intake of hard-money men on the voting committee has not shifted Fed thinking, despite global anger at dollar debasement under QE2.
Fuelling the blaze, the emerging powers of Asia are almost all running uber-loose monetary policies. Most have negative real interest rates that push citizens out of bank accounts and into gold, or property. China is an arch-inflater. Prices are rising at 6.4pc, yet the one-year deposit rate is just 3.5pc. India’s central bank is far behind the curve.
"It is very scary: the flight to gold is accelerating at a faster and faster speed," said Peter Hambro, chairman of Britain’s biggest pure gold listing Petropavlovsk.
"One of the big US banks texted me today to say that if QE3 actually happens, we could see gold at $5,000 and silver at $1,000. I feel terribly sorry for anybody on fixed incomes tied to a fiat currency because they are not going to be able to buy things with that paper money."