Too many investors are bypassing prudent money management to guard against a total market collapse that may never come, and the cost of that strategy may far outweigh any potential benefits, writes MoneyShow's Howard R. Gold, also of The Independent Agenda.
Have you ever watched Doomsday Preppers? It's a popular National Geographic Channel reality show about average Americans who make elaborate plans to protect themselves and their loved ones from earthquakes, mega-volcanos, economic disaster, geomagnetic storms, you name it.
These people have spent countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars to keep their families safe from TEOTWAWKI — The End of the World as We Know It.
Now don’t get me wrong — disaster preparation is prudent and necessary, as we all learned when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. But many of these preppers are, well, slightly over the top. That’s why they’re on reality TV.
Unfortunately, the Doomsday Prepper mentality has spilled over into investing. Many individuals, spooked by the financial crisis and the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented easy-money policy, have abandoned stocks and loaded up on so-called alternative assets — especially precious metals — to protect themselves against the coming Apocalypse.
In a poll, 1,800 WSJ.com readers said they put an astonishing 44% of their portfolios into alternative assets, but invested only 8% in U.S. stocks. TD Ameritrade told me 29% of their clients’ balances in exchange traded funds are in alternative investments, often precious metals.
And a recent study by Northern Trust of 1,700 wealthy U.S. investors found that 30% of households with investable assets of $5 million or more “say they are more inclined to consider alternative investments now than they were five years ago.”
The high-net-worth individuals polled by Northern Trust were looking at many different alternatives, including currencies, hedge funds, and private equity.
But three financial advisors I spoke with — all certified financial planners representing the CFP Board of Standards — said that when their clients discussed alternatives, they were mostly looking for gold and silver and protection against TEOTWAWKI.
These planners try to talk determined Doomsters off the proverbial ledge with nothing more than common sense about holding widely diversified portfolios and investing for the long haul.
“I always revert back to, how does this fit into your financial plan?” said Cary Guffey, a financial advisor with PNC Investments in Birmingham, Alabama. Some of the precious metal fetishization becomes “speculating, not investing,” he told me.
Gold, for instance, has had “a remarkable run-up, but it can come back down,” he said.
It already has — from a high of over $1,900 an ounce in August 2011 to around $1,550 now, a nine-month low. The yellow metal is approaching the 20% decline normally associated with bear markets, and may test key support levels soon.
When gold peaked in August 2011, the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (NYSEARCA:GLD) was worth more than the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA:SPY), which tracks the S&P 500 index. Since then, the S&P index has soared 40%, not including dividends, so gold bugs have trailed the big-cap benchmark index by 60 percentage points.
Meanwhile, silver is officially in a bear market. “Many investors have abandoned silver in pursuit of better returns in the stock market...” The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “Other investors see less of a need to hold the metal as a hedge against inflation...”
But the stock rally is all phony, Doomsday Preppers argue, pumped up by the Fed’s easy-money policy. As soon as that ends, the markets and the economy will come crashing down, and those who have a treasure chest full of gold and silver coins (and portfolios stuffed with GLD and SLV) will rule the world.
Never mind that they’re envisioning an off-the-charts meltdown in which paper money is useless and only gold is legal tender. It also assumes a hyperinflation of the kind we’ve seen rarely in history.
Too many of these Doomsday Prepper investors have been influenced by gurus like Dr. Marc Faber and Peter Schiff, who predicted for years that the U.S. will suffer hyperinflation like Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany.
Whatever you may think of the Fed’s policy — and I find it troubling — that just hasn’t happened. Maybe that’s why gold, which had a great ten-year run, is now stuck in a trading range.
David Zuckerman, principal and chief investment officer of Zuckerman Capital Management in Los Angeles, likes “a small amount of exposure to a well-diversified basket of hard assets [and] commodities.”
“I would rather have exposure to all of them in limited amounts than overweight [any],” he told me.
In February and March, investors pulled money from precious metals funds and switched into broader commodity funds and ETFs. A couple of good choices are the DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund ETF (NYSEARCA:DBC) and the iPath DJ-UBS Commodity Index TR ETN (NYSEARCA:DJP).
Zuckerman likes the institutional class of an actively managed commodities fund, Pimco Commodity Real Return Strategies (PCRIX). The retail PCRDX, with a much lower minimum, has an expense ratio of 1.19% and gets four stars from Morningstar.
Think of alternative investments like flood insurance: You need some exposure — no more than 10% of your total investable assets, the advisors agree — but you don’t want to mortgage your house to protect against a 100-year flood.
“People are afraid the Fed is out of control, spending is out of control, debt is out of control,” said John Hauserman, president of RetirementQuest Wealth Management in Marriottsville, Md. “They are buying ‘doomsday protection.’”
Then he paused. “My concern is what happens if you don’t get doomsday,” he said.
In that case, you might get doomsday of another kind — but only for your portfolio.