Gold doesn’t care if it’s inflation or deflation.
One of the central arguments for financial commentators right now is whether the US is currently facing inflation or deflation. Everyone (at least everyone with a functioning cortex) is aware that the US (and the rest of the world for that matter) will face more difficult times ahead. However, whether it will be an environment of increased inflation or increased deflation is up for debate.
Personally, I have been in the inflation camp for some time now. However, when it comes to investing, it never pays to grow complacent with one’s thinking. So I did some research into how gold performed during inflationary vs. deflationary periods. The results were rather shocking, to say the least.
According to Scott Reamer of Vicis Capital, gold and the dollar index has shown an inverse correlation of -.28 over the last 17 years. Now, a correlation of -1 would be a perfect inverse correlation, meaning that every move the dollar index made would be mirrored to the inverse by gold (the dollar falls 1, gold would rise 1).
As Reamer points out, a correlation of -.28 is not a strong correlation at all. So to claim that gold will spike if the dollar rolls over because the two are inversely related is overly simplistic. A far more reasonable assumption would be to say that should the dollar collapse, gold will rally due to safe haven seeking by investors.
Indeed, it is gold’s status as a safe haven of wealth (the ultimate currency if you will), NOT its inverse relationship to the dollar, that makes it so special. Gold has been the ultimate storehouse of wealth going back thousands of years. But what’s truly remarkable is that it has maintained this quality even during periods of DE-flation.
The ultimate text on this matter is Roy Jastram’s The Golden Constant. I don’t recommend looking for or reading this book because a) it’s out of print b) it’s a very dense read.
To summarize, Jastram performed a study of gold’s performance over a 416-year period in England’s history (from 1560 to 1976). He found that historically, gold has acted like a storehouse of value throughout wars, plagues, and the like. However, what’s most striking is that gold actually INCREASED its purchasing power during periods of DE-flation.
Deflationary Periods in England
Purchasing Power of Gold
This last point is absolutely extraordinary when you consider that the thought pattern “gold rises in inflation and falls during deflation” is one of the most commonly believed investing mantras out there. Indeed, gold has undergone a seismic shift in the last year, largely due to inflationary concerns.
Consider the following: Global gold demand jumped 38% in the 1Q09. Three years ago, demand for gold as an investment only comprised 10% of global gold demand. Today it’s over 30%. That’s an unbelievable increase in investment demand.
From an anecdotal standpoint, I’ve begun hearing numerous “we’ll pay cash for gold” radio advertisements. And just yesterday at the gym I saw G. Gordon Liddy on TV touting gold as king and the dollar as garbage (he actually crumpled a dollar bill up on camera). When a guy like Liddy (central architect of the Watergate break-in) becomes a spokesperson for distrusting the government, then you know the general public is growing anxious about the currency.
But my main point is this: Gold will perform well in ANY investment environment going forward, whether it’s inflation OR deflation.
If the dollar rolls over and tanks, gold will benefit greatly from a flight to safety or a desire to seek a non-fiat currency.
And as Jastram’s book shows, if deflation takes hold (as credit and household wealth contracts further) gold will ALSO perform well just as it did during numerous deflationary periods between 1560 and 1976.
How’s that for a win-win?
Disclosure: I am long gold