Gold is supposed to be a haven amid hard times and soft money. So why, even as Greece has defaulted, the euro has sunk against the dollar, and the Chinese stock market has stumbled, has gold been sitting there like a pet rock?
Trading this week below $1,150 an ounce, the yellow metal has fallen more than 39% since it peaked at nearly $1,900 in August 2011. Since June 2014, investors have yanked $3 billion out of funds investing in precious metals, estimates Morningstar, the financial-research firm; total assets at precious-metal funds have shrunk 20% in 12 months.
“A lot of investors have become disillusioned with gold,” says Suki Cooper, head of metals research at Barclays in New York. “Safe-haven demand hasn’t been strong enough to lift prices, but has only been strong enough to keep them from falling.”
Many people may have bought gold for the wrong reasons: because of its glittering 18.7% average annual return between 2002 and 2011, because of its purportedly magical inflation-fighting properties, because it is supposed to shine in the darkest of days. But gold’s long-term returns are muted, it isn’t a panacea for inflation, and it does well in response to unexpected crises—but not long-simmering troubles like the Greek situation. And you will put lightning in a bottle before you figure out what gold is really worth.
With greenhorns in gold starting to figure all this out, the price has gotten tarnished. It is time to call owning gold what it is: an act of faith. As the Epistle to the Hebrews defined it forevermore, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Own gold if you feel you must, but admit honestly that you are relying on hope and imagination.
Recognize, too, that gold bugs—the people who believe in owning the yellow metal no matter what—often resemble the subjects of a laboratory experiment on the psychology of cognitive dissonance.
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