Nadler sees a potential return to gold as a safe haven, core portfolio holding negatively correlated with equities, rather than as a trade. "Gold could perhaps be entering a two- to three-year period of sideways to negative returns, not just because the macro environment is shifting against negative real interest rates, but because the battleship of the Fed is turning too," Nadler said. Is the gold party really over? If the Fed is the reason this question is being asked, the focus on the Fed's QE3 deliberations is misguided in the first place, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists. QE3 is being contemplated, it's just not going to be on Fed's radar until later in 2012. 10 Dow Dogs That Are Barking for Gains There is a belief in some market camps that the Fed will be compelled to roll out QE3 when its bond buying Operation Twist program ends in June. Indeed, after the Fed's QE3 dispelling comments were released on Tuesday afternoon, Bloomberg TV displayed a prediction first made earlier this year by Goldman Sachs U.S. economist Jan Hatzius that QE3 will be launched in June, and kept the Hatzius prediction at the bottom of the screen for an extended period of air time. The Fed does not have to "ease" seamlessly, though, if the U.S. economy is holding steady. "Our view since late last year has been it's coming, but not until the fall," said Ethan Harris, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist. "Frankly, I don't know why we are talking about it now. Bernanke has been very consistent in waiting to see clear signs of an economic stall and then using QE to correct the course," the economist said. If QE is not designed to achieve a goal of very strong growth, but to act as an economic tugboat -- the metaphor that Harris prefers over Nadler's battleship -- the only reason for the Fed to chart a seamless course from Twist to some other unconventional policy would be if economic data softened significantly by June. The latest FOMC minutes only indicate that the Fed is more confident about near- term growth, and Harris said the economic picture will change in the fall. "The big story of the fall will be the fiscal cliff," Harris said. The fiscal cliff concept is gaining more mainstream attention. In a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Princeton economist Alan Blinder noted that inability by Congress to reach permanent agreement on extending the Bush tax cuts, the two-point reduction in the payroll tax, and long-term unemployment benefits, are leading to one more late year face-off, and during an election year. On top of this, the failure of last year's debt super committee means automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could shave 3.5% off of GDP could be coming in 2013. "It will be a worse version of last August's debt ceiling debate, last August multiplied by three," Harris said. Last August marked a high for the gold trade.