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Gold as a Hyperinflation Put

Gold as a Hyperinflation Put

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Published by: contulmmiv on Jul 11, 2012
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Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2078535
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2078535
The Golden Dilemma
Claude B. Erb
Los Angeles, CA 90272
Campbell R. Harvey
Duke University, Durham, NC 27708National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA 02138
Gold objects have existed for thousands of years but gold has only been an actively traded objectsince 1975. Gold has often been described as an inflation hedge. If gold is an inflation hedge then onaverage its real return should be zero. Yet over 1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 year investment horizons thevariation in the nominal and real returns of gold has not been driven by realized inflation. The realprice of gold is currently high compared to history. In the past, when the real price of gold was aboveaverage, subsequent real gold returns have been below average. As a result investors in gold face adaunting dilemma: 1) seek inflation protection by paying a high real gold price that almostguarantees a decline in future purchasing power or 2) avoid gold and run the risk of a decline infuture purchasing power if inflation surges. Given this situation is it time to explore
“this time is
rationalizations? We show that new mined supply is surprisingly unresponsive to prices.In addition,
authoritative estimates suggest that about three quarters of the achievable world supplyof gold has already been mined. On the demand side, we focus on the official gold holdings of manycountries. If prominent emerging markets increase their gold holdings to average per capita or perGDP holdings of developed countries, the real price of gold
may rise even further from today’s
elevated levels.
 _______________________Version: June 7, 2012. We appreciate the comments of Tapio Pekkala and the seminar participants atthe Russell Academic Advisory Board.Disclosure statement: see http://faculty.fuqua.duke.edu/~charvey/gold disclosure.htm.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2078535
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2078535
In the world market portfolio, the global equity and fixed income markets have a combined value of about $90 trillion. Institutional and individual investors own most of the outstanding supply of stocksand bonds. At current prices, the world stock of gold is worth about $9 trillion. Yet investors own onlyabout 20% of the outstanding supply of gold. A mov
e by investors to “market weight” gold holdingswould probably send the price of gold much higher. Should investors target a gold “market weight”?Could they achieve a gold “market weight” even if they wanted to?
 The goal of our paper is to try to better understand how we should treat gold in asset allocation. Westart by examining a number of popular stories that are used to justify some allocation to gold, such asinflation hedging, currency hedging, and disaster protection. We then examine basic supply and demand factors. Remarkably, the new supply of gold that comes to the
market each year hasn’t substantially
increased over the past decade even though the price of gold has risen fivefold. We also look at thedistribution of gold ownership in developed countries and emerging market countries and estimate theimpact on gold demand if key emerging market countries follow the same patterns of central bank goldownership in important developed countries.Gold has had an amazing recent run. From December 1999 to March 2012 the U.S. dollar price of goldrose more than 15.4% per annum, the U.S. Consumer Price Index increased by 2.5% per annum, whileU.S. stock and bond markets registered annual gains of 1.5% and 6.4%, respectively. Indeed, Saad (2012)notes a recent Gallup poll found that about 30% of respondents considered gold to be the best long-term investment, making gold a more popular investment than real estate, stocks, and bonds.Though some might use historical returns to establish long-run forward-looking expected returns, it isimplausible that the expected long-run real rate of return on gold is 13% per year (15.4% nominal minusan assumed 2.5% annual inflation). Yet, it is essential
to have some sense of gold’s expected return for
asset allocation. Current views are sharply divergent. On one side is Buffett (2012) who compares thecurrent value of gold to three famous bubbles: Tulips, dotcom, and the recent housing bust. Buffettwrites:
What motivates most gold purchasers is their belief that the ranks of the fearful will grow. During the past decade that belief has proved correct.Beyond that, the rising price has on its own generated additional buyingenthusiasm, attracting purchasers who see the rise as validating an
investment thesis. As “bandwagon” investors join any party, they create
their own truth
 for a while.” 
In contrast, Dalio
argues that Treasury bills are no longer a safe asset and that there will be an uglycontest to depreciate the three main currencies (dollar, Yen and Euro) as countries print money to payoff debt. Dalio notes:
Gold is a very underowned asset, even though gold has become muchmore popular. If you ask any central bank, any sovereign wealth fund,any individual what percentage of their portfolio is in gold in relationship
See Ward (2011).
to financial assets, you'll find it to be a very small percentage. It's animprudently small percentage, particularly at a time when we're losing acurrency regime.
It is not surprising that there is so much disagreement about gold’s future.
This disagreement reflectsthe fact that at least six somewhat different arguments have been advanced for owning gold
gold provides an inflation hedge
gold serves as a currency hedge
gold is an attractive alternative to assets with low real returns
gold a safe haven in times of stress
gold should be held because we are returning to a
de facto
world gold standard
gold is
 The debate over the prospects for gold resembles in some sense the parable of the six blind men andthe elephant.
Different perspectives, different models, lead to different insights. Depending upon whichrationale, or combination of rationales, one embraces, gold is either very expensive or attractive. Thedebate over the value of gold is also an example of a Keynesian beauty contest.
The Keynesian beautycontest framework suggests that the price of gold is not determined by what you think gold is worth.What matters is, for example, what others think others think others think others think gold is worth.While the possible value of all the gold ever mined is about $9 trillion,
only a small amount of goldactually trades in financial markets. We show that the investment demand for gold is characterized by apositive price elasticity. This is one way of referring to momentum investing. As a result, even though
historical measures of “value” might suggest gold is very expensive, it is possible that the actions of a
relatively small number of marginal, momentum, buyers of gold could drive the real and nominal pricemuch higher
(especially if the marginal buyers are not focused on “valuation”).
Gold as an inflation hedge
Probably one of the most widely held beliefs about gold is that it is an inflation hedge. Jastram (1977)pointed out that historically gold has been a poor hedge of inflation in the short run though it has been agood hedge of inflation in the long run. For Jastram, the short run was the next few years and the longrun was perhaps a century. Harmston (1998)
built on Jastrom’s research, finding that in the lo
ng run theprices of some goods, such as bread, seem to command a constant price when denominated in ounces
See World Gold Council (2010).
See Saxe (1872).
See Keynes (1936).
The World Gold Council estimated that at year-end 2011 there were about 171,300 metric tons of gold aboveground. This is a widely referenced estimate of the cumulative amount of gold that has been mined over time. Thefact that this estimate is widely referenced does not mean that it is accurate. Given 32,150 troy ounces per metricton and a price of $1,650 per ounces yields a value of about $9 trillion.

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