REITs And S&P 500 Have Proven To Be A Better Inflation Hedge Than Gold Post 2008

Includes: GLD, IEF, SPY, VNQ
by: Robert Wagner

If we accept the theories that the major use of gold is an inflation hedge and/or safe haven investment, and that QE-infinity will result in inflation and financial instability especially in the currency and bond markets, then gold has proven a lousy investment relative to other possible inflation hedges and safe haven investments from the post-crash 2009 lows.

Analyzing the post-2008 crash QE-infinity era performance of REITs, the S&P 500 and the 7-10 year treasury bonds demonstrates how gold has simply not lived up to its hype. The post-crash markets bottomed in early to mid-March 2009, just a few months after the crash. If an investor rushed to buy gold at the peak of the financial panic, they would have dramatically underperformed alternative inflation hedges and barely outperformed other safe havens, and that statement ignores risk and dividends.

The major criticism of gold is that it isn't a productive asset. Gold doesn't pay a dividend, and it is costly to store. Basically it is a shinny piece of useless pretty yellow metal. It sits in your basement and is a great conversation piece for cocktail parties, but not much more. Almost every economist or financial advisor will tell you buy gold for insurance against inflation. That theory is fine, but if you are buying an asset as an inflation hedge, wouldn't you be better served with an inflation hedge that also pays a dividend? REITs do just that. Real estate is also a hedge against inflation, and it pays a dividend. From the 2009 lows, the Vanguard REIT ETF (NYSEARCA:VNQ) is up over 224%, dwarfing the 31.25% return of the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSEARCA:GLD). That 224% return is also price appreciation and does not include dividends. The VNQ pays a quarterly dividend which is currently over 3%. REITs did extremely well during the QE-infinity era; they paid dividends, outperformed GLD and even have a lower 3 year standard deviation. Looking forward REITs are even a more compelling alternative to GLD. Gold is on the backside of a bubble, whereas real estate is just starting to recover. Forecasts are for higher real estate prices in the future, whereas estimates for gold seem to be getting lower by the day.

Equities can also be an inflation hedge. From the 2009 low, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA:SPY) is up over 134% which is more than 3x the return of GLD. Additionally, SPY pays a dividend which is currently over 2%. SPY also has a lower 3 year standard deviation than GLD and is a diversified portfolio. When GLD can't even beat a broad-based equity index during a time some gold bulls are claiming it will go to the moon, something is seriously wrong with the gold bull theory.

Bonds are definitely not inflation hedges; in fact they are the exact opposite, and yet even they provided a viable alternative to GLD in the QE-infinity era. The iShares 7-10 Year Treasury (NYSEARCA:IEF) did underperform gold with a return of 11.06%, but that ignores the dividend that it pays which is currently over 2%, and the fact that its standard deviation is less than 1/2 that of GLD. Put all those factors together and even bonds become a very compelling substitute for GLD during a time when GLD should have been king ... at least according to some theories and analysts.

In conclusion, even if I accept the case that QE-infinity will mean the end of the world as we know it (which I don't), there are simply better inflation hedges and safe havens to invest in than GLD. From the 2009 bottom, REITs have dramatically outperformed GLD, have a lower 3 year standard deviation, pay a nice dividend and are recovering from a highly depressed level. REITs look to be headed higher, whereas GLD appears to be headed lower and is on the backside of a bubble. Even broad-based equities have outperformed GLD from the 2009 low, and they too pay a dividend and have a lower 3 year standard deviation. Lastly, treasuries may not have outperformed GLD from the 2009 low (yet), my bet is they eventually will, but even if they don't, considering the dividends and much lower risk, they still have provided a viable alternative to GLD when QE-infinity and its expected inflation should have destroyed bonds...if the gold bug's theory was right. If the markets are efficient, I'm pretty sure they will figure this out, and I would expect REITs to go higher as GLD goes lower. REITs, and even equity index funds have proven to be better investments to hedge against inflation post-2008, and if inflation doesn't develop, you get a nice dividend as a consolation prize for trying.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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