Gold is Never a Bad Investment

Gold HistoryGold is Never a Bad Investment

Listen to a gold bug long enough and it seems like gold will always go up in price, and you can never own enough gold. But common sense tells us that “trees don’t grow to heaven” and, likewise, the price of gold won’t go to infinity.

Although we have previously gone over the many reasons why gold is a great investment and a crucial addition to any portfolio, it also helps to take an honest look at when gold didn’t do so great in terms of its price history. Doing this gives us a greater understanding of gold as an asset class, what to expect and why – despite some poor periods – it still stands out as a solid investment.

An Early Wild Ride

Gold advocates will often remind you that “Gold will never go to zero, unlike other financial instruments such as individual stocks or even bonds.” This is true, and will likely remain true given gold’s scarcity and historical precedent as money and a universally recognized medium of exchange. Unless someone figures out how to turn straw into gold, we can be fairly confident in this prediction.

However, while there is great comfort in owning gold, it still technically means that gold could go down in price by a significant amount. So what were some of the worst times for gold?

When the link between the dollar and gold was severed by President Nixon in August of 1971, gold went from an average of approximately $40 per ounce to nearly $200 at the end of 1974, an almost 400% increase!

At this time, President Ford made it possible for citizens to hold gold and bullion once again. If you were someone who eagerly went out and purchased the newly legalized gold for the first time beginning in 1975, you would have seen your shiny new investment’s value cut in half as gold plunged from nearly $200 an ounce to a low of $103 in less than two years.

A Spectacular Bull Run

However, gold then went on to make one of its most spectacular bull runs in its history, reaching a new all-time high of $843 per ounce in January of 1980, from its previous low of $103 in September of 1976. This represented an increase of over 700% in less than three and a half years; annualized, this works out to around 85% per year.

Yet the massive price run in such a short period led to a collapse to $300 per ounce by June of 1982, a more than 60% decline in less than three years. Of course, this entire episode was during the stagflation of the 1970’s where gold took off in the face of extreme inflation, only to be brought back to earth by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker’s very high interest rates.

This shows us that in its early history of trading freely against the dollar, gold had some wild gyrations with drawdowns as much as 50% and 60%. Yet even if someone had terrible timing and purchased gold at nearly $200 an ounce beginning in 1974, holding it through the extreme times of the 70’s and early 80’s still produced a gain of 50% as gold settled down to $300 per ounce.

The Worst Time in Gold’s Price History

The worst time for gold was still to come in terms of its price against the dollar. After its spectacular run and subsequent decline, gold continued to be fairly boring and it gradually declined in price overall.

From $300 per ounce in 1982, gold eventually bottomed out at $253 in July of 1999. In contrast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average racked up over 1,300% in the same period.

Given gold’s bottom of $253 in 1999, and its previous all-time (although very brief) high of $843 in 1980, we can see the absolute worst performance for gold in its entire history: a decline of 70% over a nearly 20 year period. 

Lessons to Learn

On its face, this sounds uninspiring. However, first consider that this unfortunate scenario wouldSt Louis Fed Graph
require some incredibly unlucky timing and poor assumptions. To achieve this, an investor would have to buy their entire gold allocation on one day that just so happened to be an all-time high, and they would then have to sell all of their gold on a coincidentally unlucky day when gold was at an all-time low.

Most investors spread their purchases over time, and rebalance accordingly, taking advantage of price changes. It is therefore not likely that anyone would realize this full 70% loss.

Secondly, even if an investor did experience a full 70% loss over nearly 20 years, this represents an annualized 6% loss per year. This is certainly a painful time, but if this investor was following something like our 10% recommended allocation toward gold, the total effect on their portfolio would only be a drag of 0.6%.

We have often talked about gold being an alternative currency and more of an insurance policy than a high-performing asset class. Although this 20 year period was the worst in gold’s history, it still ended up ‘costing’ the investor only 0.6% per year, similar to or even less than other forms of portfolio insurance. Ironically, that 20-year low period has been followed by a gain for gold of over 350% from 2000 up to the present!

What happened after this low in July of 1999? Gold went on to a new all-time high of nearly $1,900 per ounce in September of 2011, a 650% gain or just over 18% annualized. This is a perfect example of how we as investors cannot predict the timing of these asset class moves, and why a Secure Your Wealthportfolio balanced between major assets takes advantage of this uncertainty.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that gold certainly has its ups and downs, and it would therefore be foolish to put 100% of your portfolio into gold. Yet a careful analysis shows that gold is still less volatile and has smaller drawdowns than the stock market.

Given its non-correlation to other major financial assets, it remains an incredible diversifier and a vital form of portfolio insurance.

Losing Credibility – Japan’s Central Bank

The central bank of Japan headquarters in TokyoWith the latest Federal Reserve meeting and subsequent announcement last week that interest rates will not be raised at this time, many missed the news from the Bank of Japan. The central bank of Japan not only unveiled a new monetary policy experiment, but also admitted it’s current plans thus far have not worked and that it’s losing credibility.

From Influencing to Manipulating

By now, almost everyone understands that central bank policies push short-term interest rates lower, even though these policies are prompted by a desire to spur borrowing, increase hiring by businesses and boost spending in an effort to increase wealth in a “virtuous circle” that jumpstarts the economy.

The Bank of Japan has been trying particularly hard to shovel money into the economy, not only to spur activity but also to combat deflation. The bank fears falling prices will lead to consumers resisting spending and businesses becoming too risk-averse. As we have noted here before, both of these theories – jumpstarting an economy with money-printing and fearing deflation – are wrong.

Japan Doubles Down on Failure

However, instead of realizing this, the Bank of Japan continues to double down on failure. On Wednesday last week, the bank unveiled a new experiment. Rather than announcing it would inject a certain amount of money into the economy, such as buying a predetermined amount of bonds, it will instead target long-term interest rates directly.

Specifically, the central bank will target the 10-year government bond yield to be zero percent. This means the Bank of Japan will stand ready to buy or sell 10-year bonds so the yield stays near zero. Let that concept sink in for a moment.

Interest rates are important price signals in any economy. Simply stated, they are the price to borrow money. Even more crucially, they coordinate people’s time preference; in other words, they coordinate resources between people who need them now, versus those who want to use them later.

Any institution claiming they know what a price should be, while interfering with the natural free market process of price-setting, is bound to run into trouble. Governments and central banks have tried to control prices of goods before, always resulting in a market shortage or surplus since the price is not left alone to freely coordinate supply and demand.

In this case, the Bank of Japan is setting a hard price on government loans. Japan is one of the most heavily indebted countries on the planet at over 200% debt-to-GDP. If investors ever lose confidence in Japan to pay back this debt, or do so in its own currency, they will sell the bonds, driving up the yields. The central bank will then have to stand ready to buy up all of these bonds to keep the yield at zero, effectively monetizing its debt.

Losing Credibility

Haruhiko Kuroda, the Governor of the Bank of Japan, in a speech accompanying the new policy announcement, noted their 2% inflation target was obviously not working. The bank’s former plan had been to make a strong verbal commitment to a 2% inflation target, and back it up with the bank’s large asset purchases (their QE), hoping they should then see inflation move towards their goal.

Instead, prices continue to fall in Japan. Mr. Kuroda concluded that the plan is not working, theorizing that consumers base their inflation expectations on past prices and psychology, rather than what central bankers tell them.

Too Late

Unfortunately, rather than admit defeat and recognize the limits of centrally-planned monetary policy, the Bank of Japan will continue to pursue any and all policies, ever bolder and more absurd, until it sees the consumer price inflation it desires.

Japanese currency with the text, YENBut higher consumer prices due to monetary policy will not generate more wealth and economic prosperity for Japan. By the time prices rise above their 2% target, it will likely be too late, because confidence in the central bank’s control and the country’s currency will have already been eroded.

The Bank of Japan has frequently been at the leading edge of new monetary policies and experiments, such as negative interest rates and now direct and blatant manipulation of the yield curve. Expect other central banks to watch closely and to try similar measures soon.

This Time, it IS Different

This Time it IS Different

It's Different

It IS Different

The four most dangerous words in the world of finance, often repeated, are “This time it’s different.” During both of the last two major booms and busts, a common belief was that the new internet age was different (2000) and later, that housing was also different (2008).

However, used to describe our current interest rate environment (particularly negative interest rates), the over-worked phrase actually does ring true.

Financial journalist and observer Jim Grant noted at a recent investment conference that research on interest rates shows that over the past 5,000 years of history, there has never been an instance of negative interest rates… until now.

The ever quick-witted Grant remarked, “If these are the first sub-zero interest rates in 5,000 years, is this not the worst economy since 3,000 B.C.?” Perhaps. Or maybe this is just the first time in history where we have central banks active in monetary policy, attempting to drive interest rates as low as possible.

Record Negative-Yield Debt

The current amount of debt sporting a negative yield continues to grow. In early 2016, there was over $5 trillion in negative yielding debt. This grew to nearly $12 trillion by the end of June, and it is now closer to $13.4 trillion!

Not only has more debt become negative in yield, but it is increasingly happening to longer term debt. Yields on 10-year government bonds have become negative for Germany, Switzerland and Japan.  

Remember that bond yields are an inverse to bond prices. As bond prices get bid up, their yields go down.

What makes this unique is that bonds are a relatively simple financial instrument. Bonds do not have the subjective valuation that applies to stocks, and this makes the math and the logic of bonds fairly straightforward.

A person can buy a stock from another person while thinking it still has the potential to go higher, given higher growth prospects for the company. The price is based on one person’s subjective valuation.

On the other hand, bonds are not as subjective. If you buy a bond at a certain price, with a certain coupon payment, then the yield is a mathematical certainty. It is the yield you will receive per year if you hold the bond to maturity, and if it pays the principal in full without defaulting.

What Bond Buyers are Saying

By stark contrast, today’s current bond buyers are purchasing a security where they know they will lose money if it is held to maturity. For example, if you buy a bond today with a negative 0.5% yield, and it has five years until maturity, then after five years, you will be paid back less than what you originally paid for the bond. Even with the coupon payments you received during the life of the bond, the total payout will be equivalent to getting a minus 0.5% return on your money.

Therefore, we must make one of two different assumptions about current buyers of negative yielding debt. One assumption is they could be anticipating the bonds will continue to go up in price and that they will then sell them for a profit. In other words, the negative yields will become even more negative, and they will sell the bonds before maturity.

Unfortunately, this requires the buyer to believe there will always be a ‘greater fool’ out there who is willing to accept a higher price than what the original buyer paid. It it not unlike those who bought houses before 2007 on the premise they would flip them to a higher bidder. Remember that with bonds, someone must be holding these financial instruments at all times.  

The second assumption is that buyers are perfectly fine accepting a negative yield, and are willing to ‘pay for the privilege’ of lending out their money. This goes against all basic laws of finance. It only makes sense insofar as these buyers have no other place to put their money, and are therefore choosing the lesser evil.

But this is a weak explanation, because they could put their money in cash and get at least a zero percent return. Also, this doesn’t seem to make sense for longer maturity debt, as it means these buyers think negative interest rates are here to stay for at least ten years or more.

Both of these scenarios point out how this time, it is very different, and we are living in a twisted financial world, a world only exists because of the manipulations and distortions of central banks.

It is always precarious to try to make predictions, but it seems that there will come a time in the not too distant future when people will look back at this period and say “What were people thinking?”Secure Your Wealth

Like a frog languishing in a slowly heating pot of water, investors have warmed up to the environment of negative interest rates, not realizing how absurd and dangerous the situation has become. But take time now to assess, and be well prepared for the inevitable.

In this zero/negative interest rate environment, it is stunning to consider that since 2000, the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average) has increased in value 63% while silver has increased in value 289% and gold has increased 380%…. an annualized return of 23.75%!

Cash, anyone? Or gold!

Helicopter Money

Helicopter Throwing money from a piggy Bank. Yen versionPost Brexit jitters have faded away and the market has gone on to crack new highs, partly aided by the rumors swirling of ‘helicopter money’ coming to central banker’s toolboxes around the world, but most notably Japan in the near future.

Once thought of as an imaginative or hypothetical example of what central bankers could do to combat deflation and get economies jump-started, helicopter money is now being seriously talked about. This is further evidence of the central banker’s mindset and why it is important now more than ever to make sure investment portfolios are fortified with a certain allocation of physical gold.

So when will money start dropping from the sky?

Surprisingly, the term helicopter money was first most famously used by the free-market economist Milton Friedman as a simple illustration of how money could be injected into an economy.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke then repeatedly used this term to additionally mean injecting money into the economy, but he also advocated for it in terms of central bank purchases of bonds and other financial assets, or to help the government finance fiscal stimulus. This earned him the nickname, Helicopter Ben.

It was therefore not lost on market participants when Helicopter Ben visited Japan a number of days ago and spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the father of Abenomics – the grand experiment of trying to boost Japan’s economy by aggressive monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Mr. Bernanke did not specifically mention helicopter money in subsequent interviews, but he did note that Japan has more tools at their disposal to continue monetary easing. Ever since the meeting, market participants have continued speculating that some kind of easing will take place, sending the yen lower and stock markets higher.

Call it what you will, the result will be the same

Central bank actions have taken many forms over the past years since the crisis: lower (or even negative) interest rates, quantitative easing, monetary stimulus, and now helicopter money.

While it is not certain what helicopter money will actually look like if implemented, it would likely be some arrangement whereby the central bank directly finances government spending. In its extreme (and most literal) form, it could involve somehow getting newly printed money into the hands of consumers.

These are all slightly different programs and they work in different ways, but they all have the same thing in common: creating (printing) money and credit and then injecting it into the economy in an effort to try to boost spending, depreciate the domestic currency (thereby boosting exports), stoke inflation, or a combination of all three.

Add gold to your portfolio – now

This highlights why it is so important to be holding some physical gold. Bernanke is right in one sense: there is nothing physically holding back central bankers to continue these programs, and central banks will continue them because efforts thus far have proved unsuccessful.

What was once thought unthinkable and merely a thought experiment is becoming a reality. If in doubt, think of all those who thought negative interest rates were a crazy idea that would never be implemented.

Secure Your WealthMonetary easing, in whatever form, will likely continue until there is a severe depreciation or collapse of currency and correspondingly high inflation. Unfortunately, Japan already learned this lesson in the 1930’s and 1940’s when it embarked on a similar program of using the central bank to directly finance government spending, which unsurprisingly resulted in an inflationary surge.

History is repeating, and the chances of central banks admitting their policies do not work, and ceasing them or reversing course, is slim. Therefore, it is especially prudent at this time to allocate a portion of your investments to physical gold, and that is why we recommend a 10-20% allocation.

Brexit Fears Fade, But Gold Does Not

british gold reservesSome of the dust is starting to settle from the Brexit vote when British citizens surprised the world by voting to exit the European Union. The initial uncertainty caused stocks to sell off sharply and the British pound to plummet while gold rose in price.

Stock markets in the United States have now largely rebounded as fears have subsided, but instead of similarly reversing course, gold has stayed high and has even pushed higher. This recent market action highlights the fragility of political constructs, while underscoring the fact that gold does not depend on such political alliances.

United Kingdom withdrawal from the European UnionWhy Brexit Is A Big Deal

In a sense, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is not such a major disruption. After all, Britain was never part of the Euro currency, so there will be no changes to its currency system. Further, the process will take at least two years or more while the terms are negotiated; - plenty of time for British citizens and the markets to adjust and plan ahead for any changes.

Yet in another way, it is a very big deal. First, it is an important event because Britain is the first nation to exit the relatively youthful European Union. Imagine if a state of the United States were to exit the union. The first U.S. state to leave would constitute a landmark historical event, even if it was a state that has talked about wanting to exit for a while (I’m looking at you, Texas).

Once one nation has shown that it is possible to leave with a peaceful vote, many other E.U. citizens may want to follow suit. This would be especially powerful if it were a country that was not only part of the Euro currency, but one that was financially healthy, such as Germany.

Britain exiting the European Union and sending the markets into turmoil shows the fragility of political institutions and the tenuous nature of alliances made between high-level politicians and political bodies.

There is nothing inherently strong about such alliances because these agreements depend on the word and bond of each country, backed up by the contracts they each sign. These in turn are only as good as the rule of law governing them, which is also a political arrangement.

Government Currencies Are Mere Political Promises

The Brexit vote gave citizens and investors around the world a harsh wake-up call, reminding them that entities like political unions and countries are merely political constructs, devised by politicians.

While these political institutions can be helpful, citizens can also come to feel they are doing more harm than good, and once they recognize this, they may choose to reject them.

Currencies are no different. There is nothing inherently stable about today’s government fiat currencies, because there is nothing backing them beyond the faith, credit and political promises behind those flimsy pieces of paper.

A national currency – or a multi-national currency like the Euro – may provide some benefit to citizens in terms of facilitating trade. But if citizens begin to perceive that the costs of the political monetary system (such as inflation or value instability) start to outweigh the benefits, they will reject them and look for a better alternative.   Composition with 50 gram gold bar, banknotes and coins

Fortunately, gold is an alternative currency to which one can turn. Rather than a metallic commodity, gold should really be considered as another currency or form of money, but with one major difference: it does not depend on political constructs, promises, or faith in a political system in order to work as a currency.

In fact, gold usually functions as the exact opposite, representing a loss of faith in central banks and governments. This is why it is essential to hold a portion of your wealth and investment portfolio in physical gold.

Here at Anthem Vault, we offer solutions to easily acquire and own physical gold, the best way to quickly and securely diversify a portfolio. We believe a reasonable allocation to gold is 10-20% of your investment portfolio, depending on your level of risk acceptance and other factors. Contrary to the opinion of some, and in-line with historical data and modern portfolio theory, this allocation can greatly lower your portfolio’s risk without sacrificing returns.

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Gold’s Role In Today’s Modern Investment Portfolio

What Role Should Gold Play In Today’s Portfolios?

To some people, suggesting that gold should be part of a balanced investment portfolio is like suggesting leeches are a way to cure ailments. Many investment advisors consider gold to Investment Managementbe a ‘barbarous relic’ that has no place in today’s modern portfolio, given our current financial innovations and instruments.

Yet when examined carefully, it is clear that gold is another asset that has the potential to add non-correlated returns to a portfolio. In this manner, it actually fits very well with modern portfolio theory, and gold should be incorporated by all investors and responsible financial advisors.

Why gold gets a bad rap as an investment

One of the biggest misunderstandings about gold as an investment is an unfair comparison to other financial assets. Gold is not an ‘investment’ in the sense that it brings the expectation of a positive return or cash flow, like stocks or bonds that pay interest or dividends.

An ounce of gold in your portfolio today will be an ounce of gold 100 years from now. It will not magically grow, expand or compound. It will not pay anything in return, and will likely cost a very small amount in storage fees or insurance. This is why gold is sometimes referred to as a non-productive financial asset.

As a financial asset, it is also criticized as something that only keeps up with inflation over the long-term, usually underperforming stocks and bonds, while exhibiting price volatility. But this is unfair and a misrepresentation of the essence of gold and the purpose it serves in a portfolio. Gold should never be considered as a stand-alone investment, but always as a part of a portfolio.

How to evaluate gold

Gold EvaluationThe main function of gold is to protect purchasing power, both locally in terms of inflation as well as globally in terms of currency fluctuations, and to mitigate risk. Gold performs well in times of stress or domestic/international crisis, as well as serving as one of the most liquid of all assets and commodities.

In other words, it doesn’t make sense to evaluate something based on criteria that do not apply. After all, you wouldn’t evaluate a bus by how fast it can go and then compare it to a Ferrari. A bus is not designed for speed and high performance, but for transporting a large number of people.

Similarly, some people inappropriately evaluate the nominal returns on gold and compare this to the performance of stocks. But the purpose of holding gold is not capital appreciation, but capital preservation.

Those familiar with modern portfolio theory understand that the holy grail of investing and asset allocation is to obtain more return and less risk. An asset will be added to a portfolio if it can significantly reduce risk without giving up much in terms of return. This is akin to the concept of correlation, or how much two assets move together: either in step with each other (correlated) or out of step (non-correlated).

Physical gold has either very low correlation or even negative correlation to almost all other asset classes, including stocks, bonds, cash, real estate and even other commodities. Therefore, even though gold can be quite volatile in price, those swings are usually going the opposite way of other major asset classes like stocks.

Therefore since gold is such a good diversifier, reducing risk without giving up much reward, the question is: how much of your portfolio should be in gold?Gold Investment

In a white paper, Merk Investments ran a few portfolio simulations that reverse-engineered the proper amount of gold. In other words, the study found what percentage of a portfolio should be invested in physical gold in order to achieve the highest return for a given amount of risk, something financial practitioners refer to as the efficient frontier.

The study found that from 1971 through February of 2014, a whopping 29% allocation to gold would have achieved the best risk-reward profile for a portfolio, compared to 100% in stocks; this, despite gold being more volatile than stocks during this period.

To be clear, the study does not state this as investment advice; it is simply finding the percentage number that fits the historical data. However, the study clearly drives home the point that a surprisingly high percentage allocation to physical gold would actually improve the risk-reward balance of a portfolio.

Of course, portfolios are not merely divided between stocks and gold. Other non-correlated assets can also be added, such as real estate or other commodities. Previous studies over the years have found that a 5-15% allocation to physical gold is therefore reasonable.

Here at Anthem Vault, we believe a reasonable allocation to gold is 10-20% of your investment portfolio, depending on your level of risk acceptance and other factors. Contrary to the opinion of some, and in-line with historical data and modern portfolio theory, this allocation can greatly lower your portfolio’s risk without sacrificing returns.

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