There are gold bulls. And then there is Shayne McGuire.
The 44-year-old pension-fund manager from Texas, who spoke recently at a gold conference in Berlin, caused a stir among the roomful of gold aficionados. His provocation: A book that predicts the price of the precious metal could soar to $10,000 an ounce, more than seven times its current price.
Like those who once boldly predicted $1,000 Internet stocks and a 36000 Dow Jones Industrial Average, Mr. McGuire is a lone voice among mainstream investors suggesting such an outsize price jump in gold’s price.
Mr. McGuire’s view isn’t idle prognostication. He runs a $330 million gold portfolio at the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. Mr. McGuire’s forecast, which he made in the recently released book, « Hard Money, » makes him a very far outlier. Most on Wall Street consider the prediction outlandish.
« If you missed » gold’s recent run-up « you have to come up with some pretty sophisticated reasons to buy » now, says Andy Smith, metals analyst with Bache Commodities, a unit of Prudential Financial Inc.
Mr. McGuire was early to the gold trade. In 2007, he and a colleague persuaded the $100 billion Texas fund, the nation’s eighth largest, to move into the metal. It was a novel strategy that made it one of the few large U.S. pension funds to have a fund solely devoted to gold.
At the time, gold was trading at around $650, less than half its current price.
In his 2007 pitch, Mr. McGuire argued that gold was « the most underowned major asset, widely seen as an eccentric, anachronistic leftover from the pre-information age that is best for ‘end of world’ types. »
Not everyone at the Texas fund felt the same way. In one meeting, a pension executive sarcastically asked if anyone else in the room thought « the world was going to end? »
Indeed, most pension funds still steer clear of gold, investing just a fraction of 1% on average of their assets in the yellow metal, according to Alan Kosan, of Rogerscasey, an investment-consulting firm. Most pension funds consider gold too volatile and therefore too risky.
So far, however, Mr. McGuire is in the money. With gold prices surging this year, his fund is up about 25% since its inception a year ago. For its fiscal year ended in June, the Texas pension fund was up 15.6% overall. The gold fund has half its assets invested in a gold exchange-traded fund, SPDR Gold Trust, and the rest invested in gold stocks.
Gold’s historic run-up was spurred by uncertainty about currencies, fears of inflation and continued monetary easing by the Federal Reserve. Like dot-com stocks in that bubble, which were difficult to value because many companies generated no earnings, gold is hard to value because it produces no earnings or revenue and costs money to store.
« It doesn’t do anything but cost you charges and stare at you, » billionaire investor Warren Buffett said in a recent interview.
There are other gold bulls, of course, including prominent hedge-fund manager John Paulson, who has predicted gold could go to $4,000 an ounce by as early as 2013.
For his part, Mr. McGuire says gold is no longer only for those who think financial Armageddon is near. He expects gold to soar amid rising inflation, among other things. « The world does not need to end for gold to go hyperbolic, » he says.
In his book, Mr. McGuire reasons that $10,000 gold is possible if enough other pension funds and big investors jump-start buying and move as little as 1% of total global stocks and bonds holdings into the metal. Such a migration into gold would equal enough demand to push prices up tenfold from their current level, he calculates.
Of course, the same argument would be true for nearly every other investment class. Mr. McGuire has confidence in his argument, however, because he believes inflation will return, which typically pushes gold prices higher.
He said he expects a series of fiscal crises to hit around the world. And then there is China, where he says that gold is « widely regarded as a basic savings asset. »
Gold prices also are rising because of the ascendancy of exchange-traded funds, which are funds that track an index but are be traded like a stock. The largest ETF, under the trading symbol GLD, now invests $50 billion, an amount that Mr. McGuire believes could grow far higher if investors shift a small percentage of their investment funds into gold. At its current level, the stock-market capitalization of all gold ETFs is about $80 billion, roughly that of McDonald’s Corp.
« Now that the value of modern money is becoming highly questionable, more and more people are turning to gold. It’s not the new thing; it’s a return to normal, » he says.
The son of a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, Mr. McGuire grew up in Mexico and spends leisure time playing chess and reading history books.
He is a fan of the financial history of the 1930s, and quotes from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech in 1933 about the importance of not overspending. Before joining the Texas pension fund in 2001, he was an analyst at Deutsche Bank and ING Barings.
His gold prediction is by far the most aggressive call he has made in his career, he says, but he says he ignores his doubters. « It seems like an aggressive call, » Mr. McGuire says, « but it’s really a comment on what governments have been doing to the monetary system. »
Of course, the risks of such a big prediction can affect one’s entire career, much as it did former stock analyst Henry Blodget, whose bullish call on Amazon.com was lambasted after shares plunged in the dot-com bust. « There are enough nutty-sounding gold targets out there that this one probably won’t shock anyone, » Mr. Blodget wrote in an email. « But it’s certainly a nice big headline-friendly number. »