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Buying gold as an investment — good or bad?
There is a huge portion of financial media that fixates on gold. The most common argument you’ll see is that gold is a hedge for economic collapse – gold is seen as a safe place to store money because it’s been used as a form of currency for thousands of years.
That history, plus gold’s global appeal and limited supply sells a lot of people on the value of gold as an investment. But is it actually a good idea?
As an investor, you’re looking to buy something that will be worth more in the future than it is today. To measure that, a lot of people will look at the “intrinsic value” – or the inherent worth of a company, property, or asset.
Most of this analysis will look at the money the potential investment over time might generate
In the case of a company, you’d look at the expected profits the business would generate over time. As a shareholder, you’re a part owner of the business and so your stock entitles you to a sliver of those earnings. For a business that is growing over time, earnings should go up, and the value of your piece of ownership should follow.
What’s tricky about gold is that as an asset, it doesn’t actually generate cash. The piece of gold you own today will be the same piece of gold 5 years from now, no more and no less.
If you buy a house, you can decide to rent it out, and over time the rental payments you receive could provide a steady flow of cash. Alternatively, you can live in the house and instead of paying rent month after month, you would be making mortgage payments and building equity over time in an asset that is capable of creating cash flows.
On its own, gold can’t generate cash, which makes it harder to value.
The value of gold is really tied to its scarcity – that gives it value in the jewelry market and it makes it useful as a store of value and means of exchange.
Some of you probably heard that and thought “what the heck does that mean?”
Globally, gold is recognized as a precious metal, and that worldwide recognition means it readily can be exchanged across borders and cultures, which is part of the reason why major institutions like central banks maintain gold reserves.
It’s also why some investors want in on gold.
They view it as a hedge against economic instability and inflation. Paper dollars, like the US dollar are “fiat currency” — meaning they have value because we say they have value — sound familiar?
So, if events unfold that lead people to question the value of a fiat currency, OR the government takes actions that change the value of a currency — like printing waaaaay more bills and giving them out to people — the currency can lose value. If a currency loses value, the relative value of gold, as expressed in that currency, will shoot up, allowing investors in gold to profit.
Some people keep money in gold because it is less tied to any one government and isn’t as impacted by inflation or an economic collapse in any one country.
But it’s merit as an investment really depends on the timeline you’re looking at.
From September 2008 to August of 2011, the price of gold went up over 100% while stocks in the US eeked out 1% gains on a total return basis.
There’s money to be made investing in gold, but it comes down to being right about gold at the right time — because gold tends to surge in value when major financial systems are struggling.
Since September of 2011, stocks have returned over 180% on a total return basis while the price of gold has fallen nearly 30% AND the returns of the S&P 500 trounce those of gold on a 1,3,5, and 10 year basis.
And for people with a very long time horizon, since 1990, The S&P 500 has posted 1,400% gains on a total return basis. Over the same nearly 30 year period, gold has returned 220%.
If you are worried about an economic downturn, it may make sense to have a small portion of your portfolio in gold, but it certainly shouldn’t be your main investing strategy, and for many time periods, you’d be better off being all in stocks.
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