Is this the time to hedge your financial bets and buy gold? It’s always important to have some price perspective. As of this writing, gold is trading at $1,291 per ounce, far below its all-time high of $2,000 per ounce made in the late summer of 2011. In the past year, the price of gold bullion has traded as low as $1,173 and a high of $1,357 per ounce. (You can always check the current “spot” price of gold and historic prices at www.Kitco.com.)
There are so many arguments against owning gold that it’s almost embarrassing to write a column about investing in gold. Yet in recent days the Fed made a subtle but very public change of policy that could be bullish for gold, saying it might stop “unwinding its balance sheet,” which is Fedspeak for creating more liquidity in the financial system.
The Fed is too smart to try to rescue an economy that has full employment by creating too much money — inflation. But the slightest hint that it might become looser in its monetary policy was enough to send gold prices higher and to trigger interest in how to buy gold. Before investing, there are a few things you should know.
In the interests of full disclosure: I always carry a position in gold mutual funds and ETFs, including those described below. I classify those holdings not as an “end of the world” protection, but a diversification that sometimes, though not always, runs counter to the stock market general trend.
Why not to own gold:
—Gold is heavy to transport and expensive to store.
—Money invested in gold bullion doesn’t earn interest (although gold mining shares may pay dividends).
—Gold has been a terrible investment over the past four decades, especially compared to stocks. And stocks pay dividends!
—Gold doesn’t always trend against the market. For example, during the decline in 2008, gold fell to below $900 per ounce, as margin calls forced selling of defensive assets.
—Gold is not necessarily protection against collapse. Remember, the government confiscated gold bullion coins from Americans in 1933, in the midst of the Depression.
With those warnings well understood, these are the easiest and most convenient ways to own gold:
—Gold bullion coins. Bullion coins carry a fixed weight of gold. Unlike “numismatic” or collector coins, which are priced on their rarity and condition, bullion coins are valued based on their gold content. Most contain one ounce, although some bullion coins are issued in smaller weights. Some examples of gold bullion coins are the Canadian maple leaf, the American gold buffalo, the South African Krugerrand, as well as Austrian and Australian gold bullion coins and the beautiful Chinese panda coin.
Important: Always be sure you are purchasing from a reliable dealer. Search at the website of the American Numismatic Association, www.money.org. Take delivery of your coins and store them safely in a bank vault.
—Gold exchange traded funds. These are securities backed by actual bullion, and they trade on listed exchanges. The price of the shares reflects the ever-changing price of bullion gold throughout the day. The largest of these ETFs is the SPDR Gold Trust, which trades on the NYSE under the symbol GLD.
—Gold mining shares and gold mutual funds. There are dozens of publicly traded gold mining companies. Their shares rise and fall not only with the price of gold but with the success of their gold mining strategies. Some, but not all, pay dividends. The typical investor is better off with mutual funds that diversify the risk in owning gold shares. Fidelity, Vanguard and American Century all have gold funds. But the long-time specialist in this area is the US Global Investors’ Gold and Precious Metals Fund (USERX) at www.USFunds.com.
Gold typically makes headlines at market extremes, and it is legitimately out of fashion these days. That’s what makes it interesting. And that’s The Savage Truth.