Despite the panic of 2008, the belief that gold is a foolish "investment" still persists.
I've been a strong advocate of gold and silver since 2005. Back then, I sold my condo and used some of the proceeds to buy some gold coins. When I started buying, the price of gold was $495/oz. Today it's hovering around $1,600/oz.
A lot of people I know complained that gold is a relic from olden times. That it has no use in the modern era. Of course, this was before 2008 when it seemed like the entire financial system was about to crumble.
Even Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, took an opportunity to ridicule gold in his latest shareholder letter.
Today the world's gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce - gold's price as I write this - its value would be about $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.
Let's now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (XOM) (the world's most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?
While I have a lot of respect for Buffett's views and also own stock in Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A), I'm going to have to disagree with him on this one. Gold has always been a store of value. And a valuable hedge against monetary mismanagement - something we (and Europe) are currently experiencing.
David Einhorn, manager of Greenlight Capital, World Poker Champion and author of Fooling Some of the People All of the Time, also disagrees. He had an excellent comeback for Buffett's derision of gold.
In his recent shareholder letter, he referenced Buffett's analogy, but with an interesting twist.
The debate around currencies, cash, and cash equivalents continues. Over the last few years, we have come to doubt whether cash will serve as a good store of value. If you wrapped up all the $100 bills in circulation, it would form a cube about 74 feet per side. If you stacked the money seven feet high, you could store it in a warehouse roughly the size of a football field. The value of all that cash would be about a trillion dollars. In a hundred years, that money will have produced nothing. In a thousand years, it is likely that the cash will either be worthless or worth very little. It will not pay you interest or dividends and it won't grow earnings, though you could burn it for heat. You'd have to pay someone to guard it. You could fondle the money. Alternatively, you could take every U.S. note in circulation, lay them end to end, and cover the entire 116 square miles of Omaha, Nebraska. Of course, if you managed to assemble all that money into your own private stash, the Federal Reserve could simply order more to be printed for the rest of us.."
As gold dropped 21% from its peak of $1,921 last summer, to $1,544/ounce in May, the media was quick to announce that gold was in a bear market, and that the massive bull-run in gold over. But gold isn't an investment. It's a store of value. Just like cash. And over the centuries it is more likely to retain its purchasing power than any currency or business.
And despite short-term fluctuations in its price, gold will always be worth something. If you don't believe me, just ask the Greeks!
Gold is also uncorrelated with other asset classes like stocks and bonds. Owning some in a diversified portfolio helps reduce your volatility. In the past week, the S&P500 was down over 3%, while the gold ETF (GLD) was up 4%. While I prefer owning gold and silver coins, owing an ETF like GLD is an easy way to get exposure to gold.
How much gold you should own depends on your risk tolerance and other investments. But as a general rule of thumb, gold should be between 2.5% and 15% of your portfolio. Although, Harry Brown's Permanent Portfolio has done exceedingly well with an allocation as high as 25%.