Tag Archives: gold

Are Commodities A Good Investment?

When it comes to discussing investment options, commodities often pop up as something that is seen as a gamble. But are commodities actually a viable investment?

Commodities

There are a few basic kinds of commodities. There are metals like gold and silver. There are gas-type resources like oil and gasoline. There are animals like cattle and pigs. And then there’s also grown commodities like wheat and corn.

Commodities as an Investment

Not only are there many forms of commodities, there are also different ways of investing in them, take gold for example. If you were interested in investing in gold, you would have a few options to consider. The simplest route would to buy a gold bullion ETF, but you could also purchase gold bars and physically store them, or you could even buy gold jewelry and other gold-based products.

Generally as a whole, commodities are simply a resource used in the means of production, that is valued based on simple supply and demand. By very nature, the price of various commodities aren’t specifically predicable because of the way in which commodities are traded. Just like stock prices can’t be determined on a short-term basis, commodities are very volatile even in long periods of time.

However, this brings us back to our original question, should one invest in commodities? First off, I wouldn’t consider commodities a real investment because resources, just by themselves, aren’t growing enterprises that produce cashflow or even profit. So if one is going to discuss “investing” in these, let’s call it what it is: speculating.

My option speculation is that speculation as a whole is generally a bad idea for long-term investing. However if one considers the prices of certain commodities there are predicable supply-demand patterns that arise. Gold for example, has done considerably well in times of economic panic.

Overall, commodities aren’t a wise “investment” choice for the majority of investors. However as part of a broad portfolio, it might not be bad to put a 5% or 10% stake in gold as a hedge against economic disaster. Ultimately the choice depends on the individual.

Money: Where it Comes From

Most people like money. They either collect it, or simply view it as a means to buy their next meal. The fact remains: money is useful. But why do we used money and where did it come from?

It is commonly thought that money arose as a result of the need to barter. This isn’t necessarily the case. There isn’t any society that we know of run completely on barter, even in ancient times. However people did barter a little, and the rest they either gifted or gave away as a form of debt.

At some point the use of debt was coupled with the use of commodity currency. Depending on the people group or the time period in which it was traded, money could be shells, wheat, precious metals, and eventually physical coins. It was after this first occurrence of coins around 600 B.C. by the Lydians that coins started to become more commonly used.

As time progressed, and more and more groups of people used coins, a representative form of money emerged. This was basically paper or some other useless thing, that was available to trade for something of value, like gold. These “certificates” became more and more widespread.

Other societies have since gone back and forth between representative money and actual commodity currencies. The U.S. started out with gold and silver coins as its money. At some point it started a gold certificate or what’s known as “the gold standard”. These could be traded in for a physical amount of gold. Then, with the actions of President Nixon, the gold standard was abolished and we have since been using what’s called fiat currency.

Fiat Currency is just paper, or electronic money, that can’t be turned in for any amount of gold or silver. The only way it has value is because the government says it does. The very nature of fiat currency, as with most currencies, is one of inflation. Since we have gone off the gold standard, prices have “gradually” gone up. What used to cost $1 now costs $10.

The beauty of our current system is that instead of bartering or becoming indebted every time we want something, we are able to trade currency for things of value. In giving someone a dollar, we are giving them something that is widely able to be “traded” for something else of value.

While our system of money in the U.S. certainly isn’t perfect, it has done a great job in facilitating the transfer of assets, resources and services from one side of the economy to the other.

How Much Should I Put in Savings?

As interest rates have risen considerably over the last year or so, many people have come to wonder if saving now “makes sense”. The characteristic of saving as a give or take isn’t quite right because saving should always be a part of someone’s financial picture. Let me describe the reasons one would want to save and ways in which to go about doing this.

1. Emergency Fund

The emergency fund is one of the universally required parts of any financial plan. Without emergency reserves the risks of anything, whether a personal household or a business operation, increase exponentially.

Savings for an emergency fund need to be accessible at a moments notice. Keep them in either a bank account or money market account.

2. Short-term savings

Short term savings, for things like buying a house are usually best placed in a short-term CD or money market. For example if you know you want to purchase a home in three months or so, getting a three-month CD can make sense.

If the timeframe is less certain, stick with a money market or basic savings account.

3. Long-term savings

For savings intended for expenses that are further out in the future, your best bet is in either a CD, government note, or a combination of more riskier investments. For example if you’re saving up for a car in 3 years, it might make sense to put the whole thing in a CD.

However if you’re able to take a little more risk, you might consider putting 25% in an S&P 500 index, 25% in a short-term government bond index, 25% in a gold bullion ETF and 25% in a money market. These four together over the last forty years haven’t lost money over any 3-year period as long as their rebalanced annually. (However past returns doesn’t guarantee future performance.)

4. Other Savings Goals

Any other goals should be taken in a case-by-case basis. Talk with your financial advisor about any questions you have before making investing decisions that you aren’t sure about.

The Purpose of Investing

The whole purpose of investing is to turn money into more money – it’s to be able to buy more things than you bought in the past. However, why not put all your money into savings? If I can lose “all” my money in the stock market, why not play it safe and keep everything in savings? There are two reasons. 1) You probably want to grow your money, not simply keep it safe. And 2) the value of money goes down over time. Wait, you might be asking, isn’t $1 always worth $1?

Yes and no. While $1 will always be the same, the amount that $1 can purchase generally goes down over time. Let’s use an example. Let’s say you have a small collection of 10 Legos. While you really love Legos, you only have these 10, so you tend to be really careful with them – you like them a lot.

One of your friends offers you an apple for one of your Legos. You refuse because you don’t want to have 9 left. However, a few months later, after Christmas and a birthday, you have received 36 more Legos. Your friend comes to you again and asks to trade one apple for two Legos. While you don’t like the idea of giving away more Legos, you don’t mind as much any more because you now have 36. So you do the deal.

What changed? Why were you willing to give more Legos up for an apple when before you wouldn’t even trade one for one? That’s because the Legos became less rare. This has to do with supply and demand. While demand for Legos stayed relatively the same, the supply increased, which decreased the value of the Legos relative to the apples.

We could get really technical with economics but for now the general principle can ring true with money as well. As the amount of money out in circulation, both physical and electronic, increases, the perceived value, and therefore the purchasing power of those dollars, decreases. In the last 100 years, inflation has gone up at about 2 to 4% per year.

The scary thing is that inflation continues even when your money isn’t growing. For example in 2008 when the whole real estate market and stock market crashed, inflation continued. Meaning, not only did stock investors lose 37% on their money, they also lost an additional 3%+ in purchasing power! Ouch!

In times of great economic panic gold often increase in price because it can act as a fear mechanism for investors when times get tough. When people in the market see inflation increasing and economic certainty decreasing, they often view gold, which has been used as money for literally thousands of years, as a safer location for their money.

The bottom line: real estate and stocks are fantastic investments for anyone looking to outpace inflation over long periods of time.