The gold mutuals -- a gentler slide

After two years of out-shining the rest of the mutual fund world, the gold-investing mutual funds have lost some of their allure. Since the beginning of the year, the price of gold has plunged $122 per troy ounce, falling to $467 last week. The seven gold funds followed by Lipper Analytical Services Inc. declined an average of 17.29 percent during that period.

On an individual basis, Golconda Investors Ltd. was down 15.41 percent; Gold Fund Inc., 16.53 percent; Research Capital Fund, 17.46 percent; Strategic Investments, 20.20 percent; United Services Fund, 19.25 percent; and International Investors, 14.88 percent.

Over a slightly longer period, Wiesenberger Investment Companies Service reports the six funds followed by the service showed an average decline of 10 percent over the past six-month period and a 2 percent gain over a 12-month period.

Gold fund managers blame the decline on a number of factors. Dr. Roy Brenna, president of Strategic Investments Fund Inc. located in Dallas, reports that South African investment bankers have told him that a large German bank, in a liquidity crunch, has been selling gold over the past several months to raise cash.

According to John van Eck, president of International Investors, the largest of the gold funds with assets of $280 million, the pullback in gold is "just a normal correction" after the sharp runup that resulted in gold peaking at $870 per troy ounce on Jan. 21, 1980.

Harry Bingham, vice- president and portfolio manager for United Services Fund Inc. based in Universal City, Texas, believes that high interest rates have forced down gold prices.

"It's not your normal selling pressure," he explains, adding, "Speculative money is being squeezed out of the markets by the high cost of carrying the metal." Commodities in general, he points out, have been weak and the dollar strong. "When the dollar is strong," he states, "it takes the bloom off of gold."

Due in part to the continued profitability of the mines -- and high yield in the stocks -- Mr. van Eck says that recently his fund has not gone down as much as the price of gold. "If you view as an index of the gold funds," he explains, "you would see that recently gold shares have been resisting the downward move. Maybe this could be a sign of a bottom . . . although I don't know for sure."

"The Russians generally sell on strength," he says, "and now that they are exporting oil to Europe, they don't need to sell as much gold although a lot depends on their crops." The South Africans, he says, have told him that "they will not force the price of gold down by selling." With a 3 billion rand surplus , they can afford to wait for better prices. They need $500 per ounce gold, he comments.

In spite of the fall in the price of gold and fund shares, Mr. Bingham says his fund has been adding 400 to 500 new shareholde rs per month.

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