Gold’s Superb 2016 Performance – A Perspective on the Shiny Metal’s Value

As an asset class, gold is enjoying a monumental year. Since the very beginning of 2016, it has climbed 17%. All this time, the stock market and the U.S. dollar have kept vacillating. But it’s been thirty years since gold has shot out of the gate with this kind of first-quarter energy.
Analysts have offered a number of reasons for the yellow metal’s powerful climb. First of all, the stock market has been intensely unpredictable. In a risk-off flight for a safe haven, investors and traders have flocked to gold to limit their losses.
Secondarily, the Fed’s benign and virtually non-committal interest rates have posed an unappealing option for investors and traders. Ordinarily, when the Fed raises rates, gold will pull back in price since it offers no interest, compared with other asset classes which do. Gold bugs have traditionally argued that if, in the long run, the rate of inflation outpaces the rise in rates, gold is still a better investment than sheer cash. Investors are now persuaded that the Fed is left with almost no tools to jump-start an economy that has failed to grow sufficiently since the Great Recession.
Then there’s the matter of a contracting global economy. The slowing down of the world’s second largest economy, China, has initiated a domino effect for the rest of the world. Countries that do business with China, like Australia, South Korea and Malaysia have all felt the impact of a reduction in revenue from Chinese imports. The overall effect has been one of global economic contraction – proving that gold’s value can increase during periods of deflation as well as inflation.
Finally, there’s the frequently cited notion that physical gold, since it’s a hard asset, has intrinsic value. The idea here is simple. Stocks are simply pieces of paper. If a company files for bankruptcy, its true value goes to zero. Any money investors put into the company is therefore lost.
But the argument that gold has intrinsic value is entirely specious. Not only does gold lack intrinsic value. So does everything else in the world.
Here’s why: If something were to have intrinsic value, it would do so if the world came to an end, and there were no human beings left in it. At first blush, such a scenario might sound silly, but it’s one we need to be reminded of. For gold, or any other commodity, for that matter, to have intrinsic value, the planet needs at least two people – one to value that commodity, and the other to confirm that value. The notion of value, therefore, can only make sense as an assigned rather than an intrinsic quality.
The entire discussion of gold as an investment, then, becomes truly meaningful when we appreciate gold’s negative correlation to the dollar – or even the stock market. Because gold pre-dates the existence of any fiat currency or stock market, it serves as an important metric in any market during any period. And while that metric can never be one that’s intrinsic, it’s the most important relative metric we can ever have when it comes to money.

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