The price of gold has skyrocketed 28 percent since the start of 2016, propelling the precious metal to its current price of $1,358 an ounce. Some investors have turned to gold as a safe haven amid stock market jitters and as global central banks turn to negative interest-rate policies.
More recently, the surprise Brexit vote, in which the UK chose to leave the European Union, spurred another round of gold buying.
Gold is viewed as a safety play and a hard asset that investors turn to during financial, political or even military uncertainty or conflict. It is considered by some as an alternative currency that is not vulnerable to manipulation or devaluation by global central banks.
Gold acts as an insurance policy, a hedge against equity market declines and a vehicle to protect and grow wealth, says David Beahm, president and CEO of Blanchard and Co., a precious metals investment firm in New Orleans.
“This paid off for gold investors after the 2008 global financial crisis,” Beahm says.
ETFs and mining stocks do not always follow the price of gold. “There are sometimes outside forces at play that can move the price of paper investments at different rates and in different directions than the spot price of gold,” Beahm says. “Gold could be performing strongly, and a mining company’s stock may not reflect the commodity’s performance.”
For example, mining stocks can be negatively affected by workforce strikes, political strife in the countries where miners operate, company management and accounting issues. Another advantage to physical ownership is that there is no counterparty risk. Physical gold is one of the only primary asset classes that is not simultaneously someone else’s liability, says Peter A. Grant, chief market analyst at USAGold.
“Positions in ETFs and futures are more a bet on price activity, rather than actual gold ownership,” Grant says.
Some investment analysts are anti-gold, saying it offers no returns or dividends and should be avoided. The current wave of negative interest-rate policies may be changing those thoughts, Beahm says.
“Blanchard clients are often looking for the return of their money, not the return on their money,” he says. “Take the plethora of negative interest-rate bonds around the globe right now. Gold has the power to store and grow wealth.”
Investing in physical gold is easy, and any investor can do it. The first step is to find a reputable gold dealer. Check out any company you’re considering doing business with through the Better Business Bureau.
How long a company has been in business is important, Grant says. “Ten years in business is good, 15 years or more is even better,” he says. “Trust your instincts. If you feel like your questions aren’t being answered, or you feel like you’re being pressured, hang up and try another firm.”
Investors can purchase gold coins or bars of gold. The most popular gold coin is the 1 ounce Gold American Eagle, which is 99 percent pure and guaranteed for weight, content and purity by the U.S. government, Beahm says. The American Eagle carries a slightly higher premium than other gold coins, such as the Chinese Panda, Canadian Maple Leaf and South African Krugerrand, and Beahm says it returns a higher buy-back price when an investor is ready to sell.
Each gold bullion coin carries a small premium over the spot price of gold – usually 3 to 4 percent – to cover manufacturing and handling.
Coins tend to be easier to convert into cash than bars, resulting in narrower buy and sell spreads, Grant says.
The purchase of gold coins is fairly straightforward. The investor can contact a dealer, arrange for payment and lock in the purchase price at the time of the transaction. The gold dealer can ship the gold directly to the customer’s home. Blanchard recommends insuring and storing gold.
“Having physical possession of your asset and having a piece of mind that no one can get to it but you makes it worth the relatively small cost,” Beahm says. “Keeping gold in a home safe or in a safe deposit box is easy for most people.”
How much should an investor allocate to gold? Gold has a low correlation to stocks, which makes it a strong portfolio diversifier. Blanchard and Co. suggests its clients allocate 10 to 15 percent of their investment portfolios to gold. Investors can hold gold in a retirement account by opening a self-directed IRA.
“The paperwork is very easy, and the transaction is seamless,” Beahm says. “The physical gold is held by a third-party custodian, which stores it on the investor’s behalf.”
The U.S. Government requires this form of third-party storage for the physical metal to be eligible for an IRA, Beahm says.
Are there more gains in gold’s future? Some investment banks have been raising their price targets. Saxo Bank and JP Morgan have targeted $1,400 per ounce by year end.
At its current $1,358 per ounce, gold is trading well below its all-time high of about $1,900 per ounce set in September 2011.
“I think the long-term uptrend in gold is re-exerting itself amid persistent growth risks, an absence of inflation and the ever-growing global debt overhang,” Grant says. “In light of this, the world’s central banks will continue to offer extraordinary accommodations. Many benchmark bond yields are setting record lows. Gold tends to do well in such an environment.”
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