Why Invest in Gold?


By Levik Dubov

Simple Answer:

The reason why investors own precious metals, is to insure themselves from a debasement of currency at a greater rate than available market returns. Few people actually own precious metals physically, and those who do often do for the wrong reasons.

Gold is not a reliable vehicle for appreciation, yet it is an outstanding store of value. The sensible capitalist does not “invest” in gold. He merely safeguards his wealth in the form of non-financed physical-assets in times when currency competency comes into question, and waits until either the inflation subsides or an opportunity of adequate returns to be restored.

As one hedge fund manager recently put it: “All investments have their day, and right now gold is having its day”.

In-Depth Analysis:

For all those who aren’t familiar with Talmudic-style dissection, Get ready!

Some people are natural cynics and approach everything with a good dose of skepticism. (These people often spend years owning nothing but AAA-bonds and Market Funds). Others are opportunists and approach everything with a gullible zeal. (These people are often looking for the next Microsoft). We see ourselves as mere realists, in an attempt to approach everything with a logical and objective frame of mind.

To understand results we must first find reason…

Questions Scott Adams poses:

I am referring to a recent article by famed Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams. I enjoy his posts very much and I hope this article will clarify his perplexities regarding precious metals investment.

1. “People aren’t good at predicting the future, no matter how obvious the future path seems”.

It is for precisely this reason, that when things do change, (such as the turn of the English Empire), so few expect it and are prepared. Ask people interested in precious metals, exactly how many ounces of physical metal they own. You’ll notice how few people truly stand behind the words they’ve spoken. As a matter of fact, just glancing through the comments on Adams’ blog, it seems that most of the forum comes across as hypothetical folks who either own too little of a position, or are influenced by invalid reasoning.

2. “Warren Buffett isn’t putting all of his money in gold”.

I will get to the reason behind this in a moment, but it must be understood that Mr. Buffett is a “Common Stock Man”. That’s what fascinates him, that’s what engages him, that’s what he does best. So why should he invest in gold when he has found far greater returns in an under-valued marketplace?

3. “My failure to imagine how the debt can be contained might be just that: a failure of my imagination”.

When it comes to debt there is far too many variables to consider (i.e. Chinese Bond-ownership, Dollar Replacement, Federal Bankruptcy, Currency Revaluation, The Gold Standard). In other words, the ownership of gold stands not as an investment with the intention of appreciation, but as an clever insurance policy against a catastrophic hyper-inflation or currency debasement.

Explanation:

In “The Intelligent Investor” written by Benjamin Graham (Buffett’s famed mentor), which was revised as of 1971, Graham says in Chapter 2, “The Investor and Inflation”, in the article “Alternatives to Common Stock as Inflation Hedges”:

“The standard policy of people all over the world who mistrust their currency is to buy and hold gold… the holder of gold has received no income return on his capital”.

He adds in summation:

“There is no certainty that a stock component will insure adequately against such inflation” [emphasis ours].

A few points need to be highlighted:

1) Graham informs us that the hoarding of gold was an age old practice. This made total sense as in fore-times bank panics, currency debasement and depressions occurred just about once a decade.

2) He cites the years between 1935-71 as “proof” that gold has been a lousy and inadequate investment class. However, between the years of 1969 and 1981, gold appreciated phenomenally, outperforming each and every other asset class by a wide margin. Had Graham witnessed this spectacle there is strong reason to believe that he would have reconsidered his position, and may have made room for precious metals in a conservative portfolio.

3) In that paragraph he also frowns upon investing in real estate claiming that it is subject to “wide fluctuations” and “serious errors”. His only advice to such business is:

“Be sure it’s yours before you go into it”.

What Graham is telling us here, is that any asset is a bad investment if done for speculative reason, or with improper judgement.

4) In his closing remark, Graham even warns that even while common stocks offer great opportunity, they may nevertheless fail to overcome the challenges of inflation, or currency debasement.

What’s Changed?

Much! Too much actually. As a matter of fact, from an economic standpoint America is no longer similar to the America Graham was familiar with. For one, America has lost its status as the world’s largest manufacturer of goods, and has gained a frightening lead in terms of consumptions and spending. (For those familiar with European history, this is how 16th Century Spain lost its position as the world leader in trade and commerce).

The world of currencies have also changed drastically. While I will not delve into the fascinating history of barter, trade and the properties of monetary exchange here, one enormous variable differentiates the Pre-1974 and the Common Eras. In ancient times, every single transaction took place with an element of exchange in mind. Whether it was sea shells, or cattle, or wooden sticks, the value of any transaction or credit was accurately measured in terms of a monetary exchange unit. With the agreement to terminate convertability from gold to Dollars in 1974, this all changed. No longer would the U.S. Dollar, the “ineffable” reserve currency of the world, be exchangeable for the gold metal.

Thus began, the current era of a universally-accpeted fiat (non-commodity based) currency. No longer would each transaction be measurable in accurate terms. And no longer would any Government, foreign or domestic, be compelled and obligated to abide to the regulations of supply and demand. So long as We The People would accept and stand loyal behind the mere faith and credit of the United States Government, so long would our ever-glorified Dollar endure.

4.
“What happens to the price of gold if people simply change their minds about its value?”

Adams’ question seems pertinently logical. However, there is one crucial question that he fails to address…

What is a currency?

The following I adapt from the works of Doug Casey:

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle defined 5 reasons why gold is money, and they are just as valid today as they were then. A good form of money must be: consistent, convenient, durable, divisible, and have value in and of itself.

Consistent. The lack of consistency is why we don’t use real estate as money. One piece is always different from another piece.
Convenient. That’s why we don’t use, for instance, other metals like lead, or even copper. The coins would have to be too huge to handle easily to be of sufficient value.
Durable. That’s pretty obvious – you can’t have your money disintegrating in your pockets or bank vaults. That’s why we don’t use wheat for money; it can rot, be eaten by insects, and so on. It doesn’t last.
Divisible. Again, obvious. It’s why we don’t use diamonds for money, nor artwork. You can’t split them into pieces without destroying the value of the whole.
Value of itself. The lack here is why you shouldn’t use paper as money.

A 6th reason that Aristotle may have overlooked since it wasn’t relevant in his age, and nobody would have thought of it: It can’t be created out of thin air!

This is not a gold bug religion, nor a barbaric superstition. It’s simply common sense. Gold is particularly good for use as money, just as aluminum is particularly good for making aircraft, steel is good for the structures of buildings, uranium is good for fueling nuclear power plants, and paper is good for making books. Not money. If you try to make airplanes out of lead, or money out of paper, you’re in for a crash.

That gold is money is simply the result of the market process, seeking optimum means of storing value and making exchanges.

Buffett’s Investment in Silver, Style and The Finale of an Era:

Buffett It should be noted, that Buffett did make a significant investment into Silver (not gold) in the late 90s, one that has come under sharp scrutiny in recent years, as few are knowledgeable of exactly what led Buffett to purchase over 100 million ounces of physical silver on the open market, and moreover what ever happened to the holding. Those who know him, have even mentioned his fascination with silver over the decades. All in all, we cannot say that Buffett “only” invested in common securities.

We may also add, that the majority of Buffett’s tenure as the “world’s greatest investor” coincided with an era that was quintessential for the class of Common Stocks. The 50s, 60s, 80, and 90s, were all part of a two-part secular bull-market that captivated the attention of Wall Street and Main Street, concluding in the most absurd valuations for up-and-coming Tech start-ups that had neither money nor model. However, one may realize that Buffett’s years of 50-100% returns are far behind him. With over $100 Billion under his management, investment opportunities are slim as: a) Stocks have become a staple of investment and speculation, thus raising valuations to their highest in modern history, and b) The potential for significant returns diminish greatly as the ability for a multi-national corporation to grow is minimal, if not non-existent. This is known in economic circles as The Law of Diminishing Returns.

All in all, it can be assumed that the heyday in common stock are over, as long as current valuations remain at their elevated levels, and investor exuberance and hopeful optimism remain.

Depleting Commodities:

In summation, I’d like to point out why investors and speculators have begun a gradual influx into commodities and precious metals in particular. In brief: They’re disappearing. This doesn’t mean that there will be none left soon, the same way that Peak Oil doesn’t mean that there’ll be no more oil. It simply means that these goods will no longer be available at these prices. This may sound reminiscent to anyone who experienced oil sky-rocket from $1.50/ barrel to over $40 in the late 70s. When the government capped the price level, supply and demand kicked in: Boom! No more gas! Extended lines of anxious cars waiting to be fueled but to no avail. There is no more gasoline left at the price it sells for.

This is why investors flood commodities when inflationary scenarios take hold. Because with all the over-investment into service companies, manufacturing facilities, tech stocks, real estate developments and paper currencies, people have completely forgotten the elements all that possible: physical goods. Oil, Lumber, Cotton,

So take Adams’ post as you wish. But bear in mind that markets aren’t very intuitive. They tend to evaluate the here-and-now and the probable, and don’t have much patience for abstract and the possible.

I only restate the famed Ben Graham’s empirical warning: “Be sure it’s yours before you go into it”.

Good investing!
Levik

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: