Sunday, May 30, 2010

Investing in Gold

GOLD! It is everywhere in the news. We have hit a new high, but gold may go to $1500 or even $2000, so there is still an opportunity to buy. And of course there are all the commercials that talk about gold out-performing stocks (if you conveniently forget certain periods of history), being a hedge against inflation (if you conveniently forget certain periods of history), and never losing all of its value (which is true, but is also true of every bankrupt company's stock certificates - they still have a heating value and can be used as a fuel source).

Gold is a rather mundane element. Up until the 20th century there wasn't much use for it (except money). Iron could be worked into all manner of tools, as could copper, bronze, brass, and steel. Gold had the intrinsic property of being shiny. Even in the 20th century, besides its decorative value, gold's only real use is in electronics and as a protective coating (it doesn't corrode).

Like every other commodity, the price of gold has fluctuated. Once Nixon completely dissolved the connection between gold and value of money in the early 70s, the price of gold has gone up and down. Before that time in America, the price of gold was mandated by law. So, if anyone tries to compare gold using a price scale that started before about 1975 with stocks over the same period is just pulling a fast one. Once the price of gold was no longer mandated by law (less than $40/ounce), it quickly traded up to a market value of $200/ounce).

So buying up gold, why? If you are doing it because it outperforms stocks, then you need to take a look at the historical record. If you are doing it because it is a hedge against inflation, you need to take a look at the historical record. If you are doing it because gold will always have value, then think about the situation you need it in.

Are you talking about a natural disaster where there is no access to electricity and ATM machines? Last I checked, the pimply faced kid at the grocery store didn't have a clue how to ring up a sale with gold. The manager knew about twice what the kid knew - nothing. Besides, I don't think they are going to be working at the grocery store during that time, and by the time you lug your backpack of gold down there, it will probably be all looted anyway. Using gold to conduct business requires that the population have an idea of what the value of gold is and a means of verifying that what you have is really gold. Our society has neither for small scale transactions. When the government controlled the price of gold they could do this by minting their own coins and stamping the value on it. Companies that buy and sell gold today have the technology to determine the amount of gold in an item, but unless you are buying your eggs and milk from Zales Jewelers, I wouldn't count on them.

How about a complete societal breakdown. Well, gold is nice because it looks pretty. But in the end it doesn't help you survive any. You can't eat it (well, you can but you don't get much nutrition from it), it isn't good for making tools (hoes, rakes, firearms, etc) because it is too soft, and it is heavy. Besides, even if you were going to do some small transactions with it, how are you suppose to break apart the 1 ounce gold coin (that is now theoretically worth $50,000) so that you can buy the two dozen eggs from the farmer for $30? If I was the farmer, I would much rather have a bolt of cloth, an extra shovel, or perhaps three gallons of gasoline. In other words, in spite of its theoretical worth, the practical worth of gold during this scenario is zero.

A lot of libertarians like gold. I like gold too, as jewelry. Do I think the US needs to get back on the gold standard - heck no. Do I think hoarding gold is worthwhile - heck no. Do I own gold (outside of jewelry and electronics) - not that I know of. Do I think you should drop everything and invest in gold - only if you are a moron, if you bought when gold was around $250 per ounce, then sell now and celebrate, if you are going to buy now at $1200 and ounce, don't cry when it falls back to $500.

1 comment:

  1. The scrap price is based on the value of the gold itself and doesn’t reflect any antique, craftsmanship, or aesthetic value.

    Sell gold jewelry