It ain't over 'til its over is one of the best known quotations from baseball catcher and coach Yogi Berra and as the global financial crisis unwinds it is very apposite yet again. We ain't anywhere near the end yet and possibly the worst is yet to come as far as European banks in particular are concerned. Markets have breathed sighs of relief as various banks have been bailed out and stimulation packages are being approved if not already implemented.But, one gets the feeling that any relief is premature. The debt situation in a huge number of debtor nations - virtually the whole of Eastern Europe falls into this category - is dire and has not really yet fallen into the sights of the investment world - but bankers must be quaking in their shoes as surely they are aware of the potential financial Armageddon that still lies ahead.And this time it is the already shaky Western European banking sector that is most at risk. US Banks, accused of starting this all, maybe far less vulnerable to the times ahead. True the US financial sector may have got us into this mess, but European bankers followed suit and, in the event, may be shown to have behaved far more recklessly than their American counterparts. It would seem that some of the potential shortfalls being faced would be beyond the financial ability of Central Banks, Governments and transnational agencies like the IMF to sort out. The system is like a house of cards. One major failure could bring the whole house tumbling down.This is the kind of situation that leads to global nightmares - wars even. Radical extremists get elected to positions of power - as with the rise of National Socialism in Germany after the crash of the Weimar Republic with its hyperinflation. We could be in for a very sticky time ahead as the real implications, and depth, of the financial meltdown catch up with us.The problems ahead may not be beyond the wit of man to devise a solution which can 'save the world', but that is unlikely to come from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown who appears to have laid claim to this cachet in a freudian moment of rhetorical madness. Don't forget this is the same Gordon Brown who decimated the UK's gold reserves by selling half of them off (395 tonnes) at gold's low points from 1999-2002 - amounting to some $12bn at today's prices - a sum the UK treasury would give its eye teeth for in the current financial crisis, although this is small beer relative to the sums squandered by the UK banks. But it is an indicator of Gordon Brown's acumen, or lack of it, in dealing with global financial trends.Indeed Gordon Brown's thinking is probably echoed by many others in the European and perhaps the US financial hierarchy which doesn't bode well for any rescue package that will actually work to stem the flow of toxic debt which has built up all around the world and may almost certainly amount in total to a greater sum than all the world's financial reserves combined, But then that is the nature of banking. It only takes a run on almost any bank to bring the whole institution crashing down, and to allow any country to fail - and there are signs that the European Central Bankers may let some Eastern European states go under, thus triggering a domino effect of defaults worldwide, to bring the world banking system to its knees - or worse. There are even fears that past high flyers like the Irish Republic could be forced to default on its debts, and undoubtedly the situation for, say, the Baltic states is far worse still.What solution is there out there. Printing money on an unprecedented scale will expose the world to huge inflationary pressures for years to come, but this may be the only way forward using more conventional solutions. Perhaps a huge revaluation in the price of gold could help bolster some treasuries and bring some confidence back into the system. And, as with any bank run it is confidence which is needed to stem the tide, not necessarily actual money!But where does all this leave the investor? Not in a happy position. The logic of further financial collapses and bank failures would be to knock the markets down and down, which in turn takes wealth out of the system and decimates pensions upon which an increasingly aging society is dependent.Buy gold may be an answer to protect oneself, but as we saw last year, gold too can be vulnerable as in times of reduced liquidity funds and individuals have to sell any liquid assets to cover their positions. But then gold is probably not as vulnerable as other assets - again as we have seen over the past year. Those who were invested in gold at the beginning of 2008, for example, and did not sell during the year, at least maintained the value of their holdings while virtually all other investment options crashed, although this was not true of most gold stocks.Now we are seeing professional and institutional investors moving into gold in a big way just to try and protect their, and their clients' wealth. As we have pointed out here frequently, gold ETFs are seeing an unprecedented inflow of funds, although there are those out there who would say it is better to hold physical gold than any form of paper gold because of a growing distrust of financial institutions and paper solutions.And perhaps rather gold than other precious metals - notably silver. Silver would be sure to be dragged up on gold's coattails, but perhaps not as much this time - even though history tells us that silver's volatility leads it to perform better than gold in percentage terms on the upside and worse on the downside. We are in a different situation with silver not really a monetary metal any longer. Industrial demand pressures on silver may well mitigate any price rises here.Gold's performance, though, is perhaps also dependent on investment demand outstripping a fall off in the jewellery market and an increase in liquidation of such holdings into the scrap sector. If the big Asian economies like India and China, where mark-ups on gold jewellery are minuscule compared with the West, falter significantly then reduced demand and increased supply from this sector will need to be soaked up by the investment sector. At the moment this seems to be capable of doing this hence the recent gold price strength, but unless sentiment changes in India in particular, where buyers seem to be waiting for lower prices, the fall in gold purchases there may limit global gold price growth. If liquidity becomes a problem in the North American markets again, this could also dent upward movement.But overall, physical gold, gold ETFs and selected gold stocks would seem to be the best wealth protectors out there. As commentators have pointed out, prices may remain relatively volatile, but currently the overall price trend tends to be upwards movement, followed by stabilisation, before the next upwards resistance levels are tested. Gold does look to be steadily climbing back towards the psychological $1,000 an ounce level but it has had trouble sustaining increases beyond this level in the past. Perhaps it will be third time lucky for the gold bulls.
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