Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Barbarous Relic -- "I Just Buy It"

John Maynard Keynes, whose ideas have such an important place in modern macroeconomics, referred to gold as a "barbarous relic" in his 1924 work Monetary Reform and in a 1944 speech to the House of Lords. With the decline of the gold standard for currencies, one might think that gold is little more than a "barbarous relic", having little interest to any but jewelers, electronics fabricators, and commodity futures traders.

Yet with the decline of the gold standard for currencies, the modern world faces a situation in which central banks can create their fiat currencies at will. In the wake of the financial crisis, they have been doing a lot of that lately. If new dollars, euros, etc. are not consumed in acts of deleveraging, as they have been to some extent so far, currency holders (like you and I) may start to become concerned that their dollars, euros, etc. will become worth less relative to real things that are less easy to create. In other words, they may worry that the necessary inputs to their lives and their industries -- energy, food, metals -- will become more expensive in monetary terms.

Perhaps this is why gold the "barbarous relic" attracts interest today and often seems to trade on the basis of perceived risk rather than on the basic supply and demand, or interest rates that determine carring costs for future delivery. But given such a tenous perception as risk, would anyone want to hold gold as a significant portion of his portfolio for very long? When perceived risk is such a personal matter, what complicated strategy would one need for deciding when to buy and when to sell? For most of us, gold seems too risky itself to hold with confidence.

If we look at Commodity Online, we see that famed investor Jim Rogers said of gold "If it goes down I'll buy some more, and if it goes up I'll buy some more. I periodically buy some gold. I don't have a method to it. I just buy it."

If one thinks that recent price ranges for gold are far below future prices, then he does not need a complicated strategy for buying and selling: "If it goes down I'll buy some more, and if it goes up I'll buy some more."

So, there you have a strategy for accumulating and holding gold as a hedge for the loss of value of the currencies and other financial assets created by mere humans. The strategy is insensitive to fluctuations in price: "I periodically buy some gold. I don't have a method to it."

The deflationary forces of a deep recession give little indication of future inflation, especially as so many people are saving their dollars and buying US Treasury securities for safety now. Indeed, Treasury prices seem insensitive to the impending flood of issuance. That is the present, however. If you think that the world's reserve currency, the US dollar, will be worth much less in the future, you might want to consider other assets, such as gold, and a trading strategy. Gold -- "I just buy it".