Gold prices hit close to $2,000 per ounce last year, and related exchange traded funds followed. So far in 2012, prices have not been able to stabilize over $1,700 per ounce. Meanwhile, the best first quarter gain for the S&P 500 has sent U.S. equities over gold for the first time in over 10 years, possibly indicating a shift in the market.

“The problem with gold now is that people are starting to accept the economic recovery,” Laszlo Birinyi, president of Birinyi Associates, told Bloomberg News. Even as confidence builds, “people are still too focused on the concerns and the fact that this looks similar to last year, where everyone said sell in May and go away,” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of thing we look for.” [Don’t Get Fooled by an ETF’s Name]

Holdings in bullion-backed exchange traded products such as SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD), iShares Gold Trust (NYSEArca: IAU) and ETFS Physical Swiss Gold Shares (NYSEArca: SGOL) hit a record last month. [Gold ETFs Rise to Test 50-Day Average]

Although stocks have begun to diverge from gold prices and defensive investments, bearish outlooks warn that more stimulus may still be needed in the U.S. as the rally has carried on too long, reports Srinivasan Sivabalan and Whitney Kidling for Bloomberg. [The Bullish Case for Gold ETFs]

“If the Fed reinstitutes quantitative easing measures later in the year, coupled with rising fiscal deficits and currency debasement among countries in the developed world, then gold may continue to hold an underlying bid,” Ioan Smith, director of Knight Capital in Europe, said.