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Shares of gold miners have stayed flat even as the price of the metal has soared. (Associated Press/Associated Press)
Shares of gold miners have stayed flat even as the price of the metal has soared. (Associated Press/Associated Press)

Gold is for the fool - if you are looking for safety Add to ...

If there is one thing we’ve learned about gold in recent years it’s this: It is not a haven investment, a point emphasized by Friday’s $100-an-ounce swan dive.

We learned this lesson before, when gold – pitched by some observers as the safest thing going, next to matches and tins of beans – fell alongside just about every other asset when investors feared the onslaught of a global recession in 2008.

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Its correlation with stocks was a little different, of course: Gold began to fall long after stocks began their slide, and it bottomed out a little earlier as well. Still, it fell 29 per cent from peak to trough in 2008, providing little comfort to investors looking to it as a store of value during troubled times.

Now, we’re seeing a similar pattern. Gold peaked above $1,900 (U.S.) an ounce in early September, about four months after the shine came off the S&P 500 and investors began to fret over the latest twists in the European debt crisis and the U.S. economic recovery.

It has since tumbled more than 13 per cent in little more than two weeks – an alarmingly sharp decline that puts it near the front of the pack among poor-performing assets this month, eclipsing U.S. stocks, Canadian stocks, European stocks and even crude oil. (Silver, often linked with gold as a precious metal, has done worse, falling nearly 29 per cent in recent weeks.) That gold would settle back is not a huge concern among safety-conscious investors. Any investment can correct.

But what is a concern is that gold has fallen at a time when investors have most needed it as a portfolio stabilizer and that its decline appears to be linked with asset tumbles elsewhere.

There are many theories about gold’s correction – that it is falling as leveraged investors are forced to meet margin requirements or that inflation forecasts are being scratched out in favour of deflation forecasts.

But what’s more likely is that, far from being a haven investment, gold has become a speculative, high-risk investment that just doesn’t cut it when investors become nervous. In other words, it behaves a lot like a stock.

And what’s also interesting is that the U.S. dollar – which gold enthusiasts deride as a product of an overactive printing press – is one of the big beneficiaries of the recent turbulence, as are U.S. government bonds.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, has bounced to a seven-month high, rising 6 per cent in September. At the same time, bonds have surged in price, sending the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond to multidecade lows last week.

These are the havens investors have been looking for to offset declines in the stock market.

Sure, gold might rebound in the days or months ahead. From its low point during the last financial crisis to its recent high, it surged nearly 170 per cent. However, those gains largely coincided with a recovering stock market as well.

Gold has been a valuable investment over the past number of years. But as a haven, it has been worthless.

 

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