By Ernest Scheyder
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - To hear mining executives tell it, gold prices have nowhere to go but up as investors flock to the yellow metal to hedge against the languishing global economy.
Gold prices have jumped roughly 40 percent in the past 12 months alone, and are trading now at roughly $1,780 per ounce.
"I'm a big believer that all of the ingredients for a higher gold price are there: geopolitical risk, economic uncertainty, inflation," Yamana Gold <YRI.TO> Chief Executive Peter Marrone said on Monday. "It just seems natural to me for gold prices to go to substantially higher levels."
Newmont Mining Corp <NMC.TO> <NEM.N> CEO Richard O'Brien expects prices to easily hit $2,300 an ounce by next year. AngloGold Ashanti Limited <ANGJ.J> CEO Mark Cutifani forecasts $2,200.
That bullish outlook on gold prices has been contradicted recently by a surge of interest in U.S. government debt and the dollar, and a slight dip in gold prices.
But no matter, executives say, because as gold production slowly dwindles and economic uncertainty increases, the price will rise.
"The conditions for gold right now have never been better," said Kinross Gold <K.TO> CEO Tye Burt. "Not only is it a safe haven for investors and offers a unique alternative to currencies, but the fundamentals of supply and demand are extremely strong."
Debt problems in Greece, U.S. deficit concerns and political upheaval in the Middle East are all boosting gold's price.
"If one were to ask me the question of how much each one is affecting the price, it would be difficult to say," said Yamana's Marrone. "But clearly they're causing an affect. That's what gold does: it's a natural hedge against these points of financial and geopolitical uncertainty."
The opinion was widely shared by this week's attendees at the Denver Gold Forum, one of the largest gatherings in the world of gold investors, analysts and producers.
"We see the world as a minefield, and we see gold as our own M1 tank to get through it," John Bridges, a mining analyst at JPMorgan, said at the conference.
From tiny explorers to multinational giants, miners all said they expect gold prices to continue their upward march.
"Directionally, the factors that have basically caused the gold price to perform the way it has are still in place," said Aaron Regent, head of Barrick Gold <ABX.TO>, the world's largest gold miner. "If anything, they're intensifying."
The view of gold as a currency, not just a commodity, is increasingly becoming more popular.
"Gold is one of the few investments in the world today that could be categorized as a safe haven," Newmont's O'Brien said. "It's one that floats in the marketplace unlike some other fixed currencies. It's one that no single government can decide to issue more or less of."
And while the rapid rise in the metal's price has caused more than a few people to scream "Bubble!" -- mining CEOs, not surprisingly, don't see one there.
"It may even be seen as the opposite of a bubble," said Burt, the Kinross CEO. "I think of bubbles as investment situations with unbridled optimism, but people are moving into gold now because they're anxious and concerned."
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Richard Chang)