NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's been one of the biggest financial stories of the year and, now, the holiday season: Gold.

Apart from the fake foil stuff that dangles from Christmas tree branches, December may prove a banner month for the shiny yellow metal. (Of course, November also proved a banner month, with gold prices rising 14%, their sharpest monthly increase in a decade.) Already, on the first day of the last month of the fourth quarter, futures prices surmounted the $1,200-per-ounce level and looked to be going higher.

But by the end of trading Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Comex division, the gold December contract retreated below that mark, settling at $1,199.10, up $18, or 1.5%, from the previous close. Gold for February delivery, the most heavily traded contract, settled at $1,200.2, up $17.90, after touching as high as $1,204 intraday.

Gold mining equities also continued to climb, with shares of Barrick ( ABX), Kinross ( KGC), Goldcorp ( GG) and AngloGold Ashanti ( AU) all gaining more than 5% Tuesday.

The reasons the so-called gold bugs and gold bulls and gold hawks have moved with force into this particular commodity are well known. From a longer-term perspective, doomsday inflation worriers seem to be reacting to soaring government spending -- and debt -- and what that might hold in store for the value of the greenback (which is to say: devaluation).

Gold, in this view, will become a kind of ultra-haven -- the world currency of last resort -- and hedge-fund superinvestors such as John Paulson (who recently created, to much fanfare, a gold-specific fund) and Paul Tudor Jones (who has been amassing long precious-metals positions all through the autumn) appear to be making wagers based on this line of thinking.

Others see simple but long-haul supply-demand arithmetic at work. Their argument runs something like this: in recent years, central banks have switched from net sellers to net buyers of gold, the dawn of the gold ETF earlier in the decade has ended up consuming gold supply, and net output from gold mines worldwide has decreased -- and will continue to do so.

One need look no further than Barrick, which finished unwinding its hedge positions earlier than expected, to see a gold mining concern making a bet on rising gold prices.

As for the shorter term, many traders only last week felt that a gold-price correction was in order, but the dollar continued to weaken this week, and gold futures popped again. One analyst told TheStreet's Alix Steel on Tuesday that he believes the metal could top $1,250 within the next 60 to 90 days.

In our latest gold-bug poll, we move the time horizon out somewhat further and ask readers of TheStreet to put their own 12-month price targets on the world's favorite precious metal. No need to consult your alchemists' handbook. Simply take our survey. Where do you think gold prices will settle by the time December 2010 rolls around?

Where do you think gold prices will settle by December 2010?

No higher; it's peaked
Somewhere above $3,000

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.