We're just a few days away from the third Federal Open Market Committee meeting of the year, and the air is thick with speculation about QE3, the U.S. economy and our money.
As has been the case for some time, you would be hard-pressed to find a Fed watcher who's calling for any real drama next week. In short, don't expect a rate increase or clear pronouncements about future monetary injections. Do expect substantial parsing of every grammatical tweak in the central bank's statement and ongoing talk about whether the dollar is living on borrowed time.
In all seriousness, the Fed and its actions over the past few years have been no small matter. That holds whether you view Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues as saviors of the American economy, in which case you've supported moves aimed at bolstering the money supply, or whether you view them as destroyers of the American economy, in which case you've viewed their decisions as setting us on a course toward inevitable and out-of-control inflation.
Those worries about the Fed, the dollar, the U.S. and the future in general have played no tiny part in lifting investor interest in precious metals. You don't have to be a commodities trader to know that gold and silver have been very good performers in recent years. Start with silver. Even after the decline from last year's trip to near $50 an ounce, if you've owned the metal for around two years you've almost doubled your money. As of now, it's about $32. Gold is off a couple hundred dollars from it's high near $1,900 an ounce a few months ago, but it still has had an outstanding run. In the last two years you're up about $500 and over five years by roughly $1,000.
Supporters of physical metals as legitimate currencies like to view themselves as practical. Detractors like to mock them as helmet-wearing cave dwellers. But we're getting to the point where the dollar's fate, as well as that of the metals, isn't simply an academic exercise. See Utah, where Gov. Gary Herbert recently signed legislation liberalizing the use of gold and silver as currencies. When you're talking about metals as legal tender in one of the lower 48, that's saying something about the times in which we live.
And Utah's not alone, potentially. CNNMoney noted a couple of months ago that more than a dozen states have lawmakers in office who are at least exploring options to the dollar. On the federal level, long-serving U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who, yes, is still seeking the GOP nomination for president and whose image made an appearance on a silver coin a few years ago, has been one of the nation's most visible proponents of dollar alternatives for years.
So is Utah the start of a trend? We can't say that for sure yet, but the issue isn't going away. Of course, neither is the Fed, and neither is the debate.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming Fed meeting, the dollar, gold and Utah's move? Weigh in below.