Are advisors right to be skeptical about gold?

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Although some people think of gold as a perennial safe haven, many advisors are more skeptical.

Some appear to view gold the same way that they view the ads that hawk it on television commercials.

“Gold is a purely speculative play,” says Mark Matson, chief executive of Matson Money in Scottsdale, Arizona. “There is no inherent value proposition in owning gold and no expectation of it returning anything above inflation.”

Popular sentiment to the contrary, gold isn’t even a reliable inflation hedge, Matson says.

“It has the volatility similar to equities and has no real correlation to inflation,” he says. “Something with that kind of volatility cannot be a good inflation hedge.”

Still, some advisors think that gold can play a role in hedging against inflation and that it has a place, albeit a small one, as part of a diversified portfolio.

“If you look historically, yes, it’s been a poor investment. It doesn’t generate tax flow,” says Allan Flader, managing director, advisor and senior portfolio manager at RBC’s Flader Wealth Consulting Group in Phoenix.

“It’s not like you rent it out,” he says. “It’s not like it pays dividends.”

But “to have it as part of a portfolio in this environment actually makes sense,” Flader says.

Gold can do well in times of high inflation, anxiety or uncertainty, and there is definitely uncertainty in terms of central bank policies, he says.

“The bottom line is that while I don’t have huge positions and for most of my career I’ve had virtually no positions, I do have some now,” says Flader, who adds that he has about 3% exposure.

“Empirically, it’s only kept up with inflation, but having some exposure to gold as a way of storing value makes sense,” he says.

Flader’s preferred way of buying gold is through exchange-traded funds, which offer low expense ratios.

“It’s a very effective and efficient way to buy gold,” he says. “You don’t have to have it certified, you don’t have to store it; you just own actual shares of an ETF that are backed by gold in a vault.”

And clients aren’t subject to the collectibles tax when they sell.

Flader says that clients can also invest in gold mining, the easiest ways being through ETFs or mutual funds.

“That’s if you really want to leverage and you think gold is going to go up and you’re not looking at it as currency to store value, but you’re actually trying to make money because you think that gold is undervalued,” he says.

Of course, investing in gold miners comes with added operating company risk, in addition to the risk that losses will also be leveraged and increased. But most mining firms don’t mine gold exclusively.

Flader says that his clients’ gold portfolios tend to be divided pretty much evenly between gold and gold miners.

This story is part of a 30-30 series on navigating the growing world of choices for client portfolios.

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