Back in 1969, when Simon & Garfunkel recorded "Bridge over Troubled Water" the duo had a gut feeling that this song was going to make a very big splash. And they were right, as their recording went on to become a number-one hit (staying atop the charts for six weeks) - while being covered by literally dozens of other singers.
Like Simon & Garfunkel, investors entering the gold market around 2001 have also scored a smash hit. Since then - quite simply - gold has performed in spectacular fashion. Even in 2008, when fears of a global financial meltdown drove virtually every asset class into the ground, gold alone held its relative value, actually rising that year by almost 5%.
And the best news? It's an odd's on favorite that we are still early in what could prove to be an epic precious metals' bull run. Says Doug Casey, who wrote one of the top selling investment books of all time: "The easy money in precious metals and the mining stocks has been made, but the big money lies ahead." With so many other investments looking questionable and the world economic situation still unclear, this "metal of kings" can provide the savvy investor with a bridge over troubled water. For peace of mind, look at gold (and silver) as providing insurance first; profit second. Why is the Case for Gold so Compelling?
Central Banks have Become Net Buyers
Between 1999 and 2002, England's central bank sold two-thirds of its gold reserves at almost the exact bottom of what turned out to be the end of a 20 year bear market. The official who squandered this portion of his country's monetary legacy was later to become Great Britain's Prime Minister - and lend his name to what is known in financial circles as "The Brown Bottom." A few years later, Canada (also unwisely) followed suit, getting rid of almost its entire reserve of gold.
But it now appears that central bank thinking has changed. For the first time in over 22 years, they have actually become net buyers - led in the fall of 2009 by India's purchase of over 200 tons of gold. Most of these officials are once again concluding that the yellow metal's strong financial performance makes it a useful counter-weight to the swings of the U.S. dollar, which has been steadily losing value for a number of years. While gold is no longer the foundation of the international financial system, it is still considered by central banks to be a crucial reserve asset. Rumors are abuzz that China, as well as a number of wealthy Middle Eastern nations have been quietly scooping up what little gold the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been offering for sale.
Supply is Down
According to the World Gold Council, gold's popularity continues to surge, driven by increasing industrial and jewelry manufacturing use, in addition to very strong investor demand - from individuals and institutions.
Also, producers have accelerated the unwinding of their hedge books. Years ago, mining giant Barrick Gold pre-sold much of its production forward under contract, promising to deliver at hundreds of dollars an ounce lower than where the metal trades today. In a better-late-than-never development, it recently decided to buy back all of its hedges - in the process, suffering a loss of several billion dollars...and adding to global gold demand.
The data strongly implies that available stockpiles will not keep pace with demand in coming years. Gold's global production peaked in 2002. Several of the world's largest mining companies expect further declines in production next year, and are in a scramble to increase reserves through the acquisition of new mining properties. South Africa, once the world's largest gold producer (now supplanted by China), mined its lowest amount of gold since 1922 - and its overall output is down 72 percent from its 1970 peak. Whereas China and Russia have become a major force in gold production, they also seem inclined to hold onto most of it - adding these precious ounces to their own reserves.
Importantly, no new major mine supply is expected in the near term. In general, it takes more than a decade to acquire, finance, build and staff a mine and commence production. Thus, the supply/demand imbalance is expected to continue - and is likely to increase for years to come.
Most of the new gold discoveries in recent years have been of the low grade/bulk tonnage variety, often in remote locations - sometimes near environmentally-sensitive areas. The normal procedure with these deposits is to dig up and crush thousands of tons of ore-bearing rock, then apply chemicals in a "heap-leach" process to get out the gold. The yield from this procedure is often only a few grams per ton! Compounding the supply problem is an ongoing global shortage of trained geologists, miners, diamond drills and mining equipment.
While Demand is Up...
Demand, on the other hand, continues to increase in the face of the newfound prosperity and increased disposable income being freed up by the Asian economic boom, particularly in China and India - three billion people adding fuel to a long-term shift in consumption demand.
Throughout the developing world, gold is the most liquid, efficient and widely accepted form of exchange and the best store of value - especially in rural areas that lack access to banking services. Jewelry is coveted in the developing world, where it functions as both adornment and savings. It is often the only asset a Muslim or Hindu woman is culturally permitted to own, and therefore may be her only form of protection against financial adversity. Additionally, the dowry concept is alive and well in India today, where gold is commonly transferred from the family of the bride to the groom.
- Legendary hedge fund manager, John Paulson has chosen to place a significant percentage of his total investment capital into gold and its relatives - ETFs and stocks. He actually owns more gold than that of several countries combined!
- Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., the 3rd largest life insurer, has now bought gold for the first time in its 152-year history.
- The U.S. Mint is dealing with "pipeline" shortages of gold and silver blanks, causing delays or outright cancellation in the production of certain numismatic and bullion coins.
- The Gold Buffalo - America's first 24 karat gold bullion coin - had its 2009 issue release delayed until last October, and in less than two months, discontinued sales until 2010...after exceeding its annual sales totals for each of the past two years.
- The U. S. dollar is no longer perceived as the automatic safe haven for concerned investors around the globe. If you had a choice, would you rather own "digital dollars" - or gold?
- It is in the government's interest to create inflation through excessive expansion of the money supply, in order to pay off its obligations of accumulated debt, such as employee pensions, Medicare and Social Security, in worth-less dollars.
Gold production is limited. Money creation by Printing Press is...Infinite.
Zimbabwe: Not that many years ago, the Zimbabwe dollar was trading at US $1.47. Last year, it had sunk to 100 TRILLION to the Dollar. A beautiful country which used to export grain to its neighbors now faces starvation. Imagine how a Zimbabwean family would feel, if they could lay claim to even one ounce of gold!
North Korea: In December 2009, North Koreans awoke to find that they would be required to exchange 100 units of their currency, the won, for just 1 unit of the government's new paper money. Overnight, the savings of these long-suffering people (except for the bureaucrats) had been wiped out. How different things might have been for them, if they possessed just a few ounces of "the poor man's gold" - silver!
The United States? Can we have "guns and butter" as the U.S. tried to do in the 1960's to finance the Vietnam War and the President's Great Society programs? In just the past year, the Federal Reserve has doubled the country's monetary base. In addition, how will we pay for a massive new healthcare program and two wars?
Within the next 12 months, it is estimated that the U.S. Treasury will have to finance between $2 and $3 trillion dollars in short-term debt, an amount equal to 30% of our GDP. Where will the money come from? Richard Russell, the doyen of financial newsletter writers (who began publishing in 1958) answers this rhetorical question. He says, "(And) my answer is that the money will have to come from the Fed by way of the printing press."
Is it any wonder that gold has outperformed nearly every other asset class over the past few years, including the S & P 500, protecting investors now in the same way that it has during other turbulent times? According to the Wall Street Journal:
"Even with the rebound this year, the U.S. stock market posted its worst performance for any calendar decade in nearly 200 years of American stock-market history. Investors would have been better off investing in pretty much anything else, from bonds to gold or even just stuffing money under a mattress. Since the end of 1999, stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange have lost an average of 0.5% a year thanks to the twin bear markets this decade."
If gold had a voice, it would most likely sing, "I'm on your side, when times get rough/And friends just can't be found."
For 5,000 years, Gold and Silver have been looked upon as "Honest Money"
Honest, because gold and silver's rarity forces governments to limit the amount of paper in circulation. When citizens can exchange their printing press bills for "honest money" the government is forced to act responsibly regarding how much currency it can print...and how much it can spend!
Throughout history and across cultures, people have understood that it is wise to keep a portion of their wealth in gold. Over time, gold holds its value and serves as insurance. It is a truism that in Roman times, an ounce of gold would buy a fine tunic (garment) - and today that same golden ounce will still purchase a high quality suit.
The world is awash in fiat paper. Today, not a single currency is backed by gold - the first time in history when this has been the case. The total value of all paper money and bonds in the world is estimated to be on the order of $100 trillion, while the total value of all the gold ever mined is $5.9 trillion. Essentially then, for every dollar in paper money, there are only 5.9 cents worth of real money to back it up - a disconcerting thought. Perhaps the time has come to bring gold into your own portfolio, so that it can help serve as a "bridge over troubled water" for you.
Gold is Rare
Just how rare is gold? How small is the supply? According to the World Gold Council, as of 2006 the total amount of all gold ever mined comes out to under 6 billion ounces. Given that the total world population now exceeds 6.6 billion people, there is less than one ounce of gold available per person to invest in right now - a figure that shrinks even further in light of the fact that central banks already hold a considerable amount of the above ground supply.
It has been estimated that in USD terms, there are roughly $200 trillion in investable assets globally, but only $5.9 trillion of that wealth is in gold.
Why is this relevant? For one thing, financial portfolio managers suggest that at least 5 percent of a person's total net worth should be invested in precious metals as an insurance policy to protect against hard economic times and periods of geopolitical instability. Yet very few people have followed this advice - which is somewhat fortunate, as there is not enough gold to go around should the general public decide to act on this advice en masse!
Gold's Special Qualities
Gold has functioned as an adornment and store of value for more than 6,000 years. The earliest gold jewelry dates from the Sumerian civilization that flourished around 4,000 BC. Gold's intrinsic beauty, warmth, glitter, sensuality and spiritual richness have evoked powerful human emotions throughout history.
The Bible contains a detailed and lengthy description of the role that gold in its various forms played during King Solomon's reign (1 Kings Ch. 10). To hold an item made of gold is to possess something that has provided security and value for thousands of years.
Gold plays a vital part as a symbol of love and devotion. It has significance for occasions like weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, as well as a host of other holidays, ceremonies and customs. Consider, too, the ways in which gold has enriched our language - the best years of our lives are known as "the golden years" An advantageous situation is referred to as a "golden opportunity." A civilization's time of peace, prosperity and creativity is referred to as a "golden era". Treating others the way you wish to be treated is known as "The Golden Rule."
- Free of religious or political affiliation
- Neutral on race, gender and language preference
- Easily transported
- Universally accepted
- With low/negative correlation to other major asset classes, helps diversify ones portfolio.
- Impervious to corrosion, tarnish or decay
- Free from debt (no one but the owner has claim to it)
- Rare, scarce and difficult to produce -world supply increases less than 2% annually.
- Cannot be created in unlimited quantities on a printing press like the dollar, yen or peso
- All but impossible to counterfeit
- Easily bought and sold anywhere in the world
- Incapable of being bankrupted - no one but its owner has a claim to it.
Gold is quite simply, on a powerful run. In 2009 it traded at more than $1,200 an ounce - over 4 times higher than its low point in 2000. For 9 years in a row, the price of gold has increased. Can you name another asset class which has shown this kind of performance during the first decade of the new century? As a result, gold is gradually appearing on people's radar screen - and finding its way into Main Street portfolios.
At the top of gold's last bull market in 1980, the nominal high price was $850. To reach that same level on an inflation-adjusted basis today - using the CPI as calculated by the government - the price would rise to somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000. And what if the U.S. decided to return to a gold standard to back its paper dollars? Gold would have to be valued at more than $6,000 per ounce.
Major investment banks and brokerage firms that were long silent on gold are now talking it up. Merrill Lynch has reiterated its forecast that gold could top $1,500 during the next year or so.
Analysts know that the combination of slowing U.S. economic growth, the inflationary effects of rising oil and commodity prices and a change in supply-and-demand dynamics make gold a safe haven, which is likely to place further upward pressure on its price given the tight supply. Just like during the last metals bull market, we will see one of the giants of business publishing a book that advises investment in gold and precious metals, an event which may well serve as the tipping point toward a new investment Gold Rush.
Some observers believe that the gold price will be driven much higher, not so much due to greed, but more by fear, as the public - from some of the wealthiest investors, to those individuals and families who may only be able to afford fractional gold ounces - seek a way to protect their assets from the ravages of inflation, volatile stock and real estate prices, not to mention currency destruction like that experienced by the unfortunate citizens of Zimbabwe and North Korea.
Throughout history, the fate of every paper currency issued has been an eventual decline to its intrinsic value - zero. Could this happen to the United States? While no one can say for sure, betting against history could be a risky move. As the famous line from the Dirty Harry movie goes, "Do you feel lucky today?" Well, do you...?
Is the Last Train Leaving the Station?
Those who do not own gold need to ask themselves if it has become decision time. For those who decide to act - Do it to protect and diversify your portfolio. Do it for family. Do it because commodity bull markets typically last 15 years or more, and this one looks like it has a long way to go.
The last train may be leaving the station, so don't be left behind. The U.S. dollar may well continue to fall relative to foreign currencies. This will fan the flames of inflation as foreign goods become more expensive. Asian investors continue to dump the U.S. dollar, and the central banks of Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have signaled their intention to cut purchases of U.S. bonds. China is becoming less friendly to the dollar and clearly intends to diversify. August 2007 marked the first time since 1998 that the rest of the world has sold more U.S. treasuries than it has purchased, and that trend continues. Our government has actually had to buy some of its own debt to make up this difference! U.S. Federal Reserve rate cuts have trimmed our yield advantage over other countries, making for a very gold-positive situation.
Become a part of this historic bull-run in gold, and rest easier at night knowing that you have preserved your purchasing power and that you hold something of real and increasing value.
As Simon & Garfunkel sang, "Your time has come to shine/All your dreams are on their way...."