Does gold hedge against inflation/deflation?

February 2nd, 2010

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It is often parroted by mainstream media that gold is a hedge against inflation. Sometimes, you will hear that gold is a hedge against deflation. Also, from our previous article (Will gold mining shares hedge against deflation again since the Great Depression?), we established that even though gold stocks hedges against deflation during the Great Depression, it does not necessarily apply to today’s situation. However, one of our readers said that Marc Faber reckoned that gold and gold stock hedges against deflation.

Isn’t this very confusing? How does gold hedges against inflation and deflation?

The answer is explained clearly in our book, How to buy and invest in physical gold and silver. For those who have not read that book, we will give some hints to the answer.

First, “inflation” and “deflation” are over-generalised words. Gold is a hedge against a narrow subset of “inflation” and “deflation.” The corollary is that in certain cases of “inflation” and “deflation,” you will lose using gold as a hedge. In page 20 of How to buy and invest in physical gold and silver, we have a story of Mr Goldberg who died a miserable man because he had nothing to show for his long-term commitment to gold.

As we said in How to buy and invest in physical gold and silver, the fundamental reasons for accumulating gold as a hedge are:

  1. Lack of confidence in fiat money (to function as money)
  2. Lack of trust in the financial system

Inflation is only one of the possible symptoms of point 1. Likewise, deflation is also one of the possible symptoms of point 2. The implication is that it is possible to see these two symptoms without holding those two fundamental reasons in your heart (i.e. see some forms of price inflation/deflation and yet still trust in fiat money and the financial system). Indeed, inflation has been with most of the world in the past 20 years. Deflation has been with Japan for the past 20 years. That is why there are many people (especially those from the mainstream media) who are deriding gold and gold-bugs.

But any time you have good reasons to lack confidence in fiat money and/or trust the financial system, it will be the time you will want gold as a hedge before the symptoms show up unmistakably as inflation/deflation.

To help you understand, we will give an example. During the Great Depression, banks were collapsing en masse. If your bank fails, then your cash at bank disappears into thin air. If everyone’s cash at bank disappears, then you can be sure there will be falling prices because there will be a sudden shortage of cash- everyone will want to hoard whatever physical cash they have on hand. In such a situation, if you own lots physical gold then you need not fear. You can always go to the Federal Reserve (remember, it was still the gold standard back then) and exchange your gold for physical cash. Or in theory, you can transact in physical gold only.

Today, during the Panic of 2008, banks were dropping dead like flies. That’s also a good reason to own gold or government bonds (we imagine that you can insist that the government pays you the yields with physical cash instead of depositing them at a wobbly bank). But then someone like Kevin Rudd announced that the government is going to guarantee all cash at bank. If there’s going to be falling prices (deflation) and if the financial system is going to function, then government bonds and term deposits will be better than gold. If there’s going to be mild inflation and if everything is going to be fine and benign as in the past 20 years (e.g. no currency crisis, no collapse in the financial system), then cash at high-yield bank accounts will be better than gold too.

Remember. as we wrote in our book (How to buy and invest in physical gold and silver), gold will only do exceptionally well at the extremes.

Here is a quiz question for you: if there’s going to be a collapse in the global financial system (as Marc Faber described as “deflation could only be triggered by one event: a total collapse of the existing global credit bubble”), would you rather own physical gold or gold stocks?

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