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December 06, 2011

Gold Lining for France's Economic Clouds

by Henry Ridgwell

Before another summit of European leaders, eurozone countries have been warned they may face a credit downgrade without a decisive agreement to save the euro. The debt crisis is casting a long shadow as France and other countries prepare for the Christmas holiday. The euro's troubles have made 2011 a good year for Parisians who deal in gold.

Rue Vivienne in the heart of Paris is the long-time home of France’s gold trade.

For the dealers, times have rarely been so good. There is a steady stream of customers. Since the global financial crisis began in 2008, the price of gold has soared.

Michel Prieur specializes in selling gold coins, called ‘Napoleons’, and other valuable artifacts from his store on Rue Vivienne.
“The price of gold has increased four- or five-fold. We have started at about $280 an ounce. Now it’s $1,700. And the question is, ‘Is it going to keep on [rising]?’ My point of view is that gold has not changed. It is the paper that has lost its value,” said Prieur.

The European Union has resisted using what is known as "quantitative easing’ on the scale seen in the United States, Britain and Japan.
Essentially it involves central banks buying government bonds to encourage lending. Prieur said the public is getting skeptical.

“The people understand that whatever the name is, quantitative easing or whatever else, this is all about printing new money without any real value. So they understand that it could go on and on because nothing will stop the governments from printing money as long as they need to cover their expenses. But gold, you cannot just print it,” said Prieur.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he is confident European leaders will back bold measures to save the euro. He has pushed for the European Central Bank to come to the aid of weak eurozone countries, a move resisted by Germany.

Prieur said his knowledge of ancient currencies tells him where it will all end.

"After three, four or five years they [eurozone countries] will go back to a decent level of indebtedness. And we will all have lost 30 percent of our purchasing power. This is just inflation. But all governments have dealt with their problems [by] creating inflation, for 2,700 years.”

Paris’s famous Champs Elysees is a shrine to consumers’ purchasing power. Despite the Christmas lights, there is not much festive cheer among the people.

"If we have to save, it will be on presents but not on meals," said one person.

“Prices of everyday goods are going up. Especially basic goods and the cost of getting around. Everything is getting more expensive,” said another.

This year, the dealers on Rue Vivienne suggest that a gold ‘Napoleon’ may be the wisest Christmas present of all.