Gold has been a valuable commodity for centuries. Throughout recorded (and unrecorded) history, gold has been used as a currency and a symbol of wealth and power. Gold has been found in gravesites, buried alongside remains dating back as far as 4,500 B.C.E.
This long-standing value demonstrates the stability of gold and its attractiveness over time. Gold is considered by investors to be one of the safest investments, recovering its value quickly through economic downturns. Its price often tracks in opposition to stock market or economic swings.
When investor confidence is shattered, gold prices often climb as nervous investors look for a safe place to put cash pulled out of the market. Gold is also a haven in times of inflation because it retains its value much better than currency-backed assets, which may climb in price, but drop in value.
If buying gold as an investment sounds like a good idea, read on to learn more.
Investing in Gold
Investing in gold is not like buying stocks or bonds. You can take physical possession of gold by buying either gold coins or gold bullion. Bullion is gold in bar form, with a stamp on it. The stamp contains the purity level and the amount of gold contained in the bar. The value of the bullion or coin comes from its precious metals content and not its rarity and condition, and it can change throughout the day. You can buy bullion or coins from some banks, dealers, brokerage firms, and the U.S. Mint, which has been producing gold coins and bullion for investment since 1986.
You can also buy stock in gold mining companies, gold futures contracts, gold-focused exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and other regular financial instruments. If investors purchase a gold-backed ETF, they are purchasing shares of a trust's ownership in gold, but have no claim to the physical gold itself.
Investing in gold with the idea it never loses value is the wrong approach. Like any investment or financial asset, gold is subject to supply and demand pressures that cause the price to fluctuate.
Current and Historical Prices of Gold
Investors should start by looking at the spot price of gold, which is what it can be bought and sold for at that moment. The spot price of gold is quoted per one gold ounce, gram, or kilo. For example, by the end of day on Monday, June 7, 2021, the spot price of gold was $1,903.00 per ounce, $61.18 per gram, and $61,181.45 per kilo.
If you look at historical gold prices, you'll find that the price of gold shot up dramatically in the 2000s. In 2008, the price of gold varied from around $720 an ounce to over $1,000 an ounce. As the economy sank further into the recession, gold prices soared to around $1,895 in 2011 due to investor sentiment and demand. By April 2020, gold prices declined slightly from where they were almost a decade earlier but continued to perform well in the midst of an economic downturn.
Something similar happened in the late 1970s. After the price increase in the '70s, gold spent the next 20 years declining in value before going back up around 2000. During the pandemic crisis, demand for gold surged, and the price of gold increased. Investors couldn't be certain at that time whether the increase would continue or not because it is equally possible that the trend could continue or the price would once again languish for a considerable length of time. While languishing, any gold investment would not produce any interest or dividends.
What Form of Gold Is the Right Investment for You?
Gold comes in many forms, so one may be better suited for your investment strategy than another. You could purchase physical gold coins or bullion, but they must be stored in a secure environment. This may involve paying a broker, bank, or another firm a fee.
One of the benefits of investing in physical gold is that, if you need to cash it in quickly, you can. However, gold coins and bullion are often sold at a premium and bought at a discount, so you may not get the market price when you do need to sell.
Investing in gold securities is similar to investing in any other security, except prices may move with the stock market. For example, if you are investing in gold mining companies, the price of the stock may reflect the company’s financial health and market position more than the price of gold. This can create a false sense of security if you are using it as a hedge against risk.
When Should You Buy Gold?
Many proponents of gold suggest it is a good hedge against rising prices. The facts do not support this statement though. Gold is often a better hedge against a financial crisis, rather than a hedge against inflation. In times of crisis, gold prices tend to rise. But that is not necessarily the case during periods of high inflation. If there's a financial crisis or recession on the horizon, it may be wise to buy gold. However, if the economy is in a period of high inflation, it may be wise to pass.
When investing for retirement, you need an investment that either generates current income or is reasonably expected to appreciate in value so you can sell it in the future and use it for consumption purposes. Gold is not an investment that you can rely on for either of these purposes. Also, keep in mind that if you have gold in a retirement account like an IRA, there may be penalties for early withdrawal if you decide to sell that gold and cash out.
Investing in gold, whether the physical metal or gold-related securities, is a complicated decision and not one to enter lightly. If you do decide to purchase physical gold, make certain you are buying from a reputable dealer. If you are purchasing gold for your retirement account, you must use a broker to buy and a custodian to hold your gold.
As a general rule of thumb, financial experts often suggest that you not have more than a small percentage of your assets in gold. This is believed to be good advice because it acts as an insurance policy. If you lose all other stocks in a crash, your gold should follow historical trends and go up in value, keeping you from losing everything. But remember, that's not guaranteed, so proceed with caution when buying this precious metal.
The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.