Saturday, July 27, 2013

The case for investing 2% of your portfolio in gold

I dived into the small academic literature on gold as a portfolio investment. Here is what I learned: ...

In a recent paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Claude B. Erb and Campbell R. Harvey estimated that the value of gold makes up about 9 percent of the world’s market capitalization of stocks, bonds and gold. Much of the world’s gold, however, is out of the hands of private investors. About half of it is in the form of jewelry, and an additional 20 percent is held by central banks. This means that if you were to hold the available market portfolio, your asset allocation to gold would be about 2 percent. ...

In another recent N.B.E.R. paper, the economists Robert J. Barro and Sanjay P. Misra reported that from 1836 to 2011, gold earned an average annual inflation-adjusted return of 1.1 percent. By contrast, they estimated long-term returns to be 1.0 percent for Treasury bills, 2.9 percent for long-term bonds and 7.4 percent for stocks.

Mr. Erb and Mr. Harvey presented a novel way of gauging gold’s return in the very long run: they compared what the Roman emperor Augustus paid his soldiers, measured in units of gold, to what we pay the military today.

They report remarkably little change over 2,000 years. The annual cost of one Roman legionary plus one Roman centurion was 40.9 ounces of gold. The annual cost of one United States Army private plus one Army captain has recently been 38.9 ounces of gold. ...

Gold may offer an average return near that of Treasury bills, but its volatility is closer to that of the stock market. ...

Mr. Barro and Mr. Misra report that since 1975, the volatility of gold’s return, as measured by standard deviation, has been about 50 percent greater than the volatility of stocks.

Because gold is a small asset class with meager returns and high volatility, an investor may be tempted to avoid it altogether. But not so fast. One last fact may turn the tables. ...

An important element of an investment portfolio is diversification, and here is where gold really shines — pun intended — because its price is largely uncorrelated with stocks and bonds. Despite gold’s volatility, adding a little to a standard portfolio can reduce its overall risk.
--Greg Mankiw, NYT, on becoming a mild gold bug