Reader Question: Investing in a Rising Interest Rate Environment

DATA MINING

A Reader’s Question

I am a student at XXX.  To cap off my summer internship, I am working on a series of projects which I will present to the investment team at my firm. One idea I would like to pursue is “Investing in a Rising Interest Rate Environment.” Are there any books/resources you would suggest for this project?

My response:  Well, if you knew rates would rise over a long period of time (decades) then a ladder of short duration bonds would probably be wiser than 30- year  Treasury bonds.  But when you talk about interest rates–what rates? 3-month, 10 year? Government debt or corporate debt? Are real interest rates rising?  You could have nominal interest rates rising while inflation is rising faster so real rates become more negative–sort of like today’s financial repression. You can’t just look at interest rates without looking at changes over time in commodity prices and producer prices.

Ask, “What is an interest rate?” Find out by reading Man, Economy and State by Murray Rothbard–see Chapter 6: Production: The Rate of Interest and its Determination. Go to www.mises.org/books/mespm.pdf

Two great books on financial history:

A History of Interest rates (4th Edition) by Sidney Homer and Richard Sylla.

The Golden Constant: The English and American Experience 1560 to 2007 by Roy W. Jastram (reprinted with additional material 2009). See a discussion here: alc56_golden_constant

The Golden Constant was the first statistical proof of gold’s property as an inflation hedge over the centuries–a seminal study.

What does the research say:

Gold is a poor hedge against major inflation and that gold appreciates in purchasing power in times of deflation.  The conclusions make sense when you consider that gold prior to 1971 was considered money.  When prices rise, then, by definition, the value of money declines relative to goods and services that money is exchanged for.

Since the 14th Century, gold’s purchasing power has maintained a broadly constant level. To put this in practical terms, an ounce of gold has repeatedly bought a mid-range outfit of clothing. This was true in the fourteenth century, when an ounce of gold was worth £1.25 to £1.33; it was true in the late 18th century and it remained true at the beginning of this century (2000 to 2008), when an ounce of gold averaged £269 or $472. Even the exchange rate between gold and commodities has been relatively constant over the centuries.

On the other hand, the US dollar that bought 14.5 loaves of bread in 1900 buys only 3/4 of a loaf today. While inflation and other forces have ravaged the value of the world’s currencies, gold has emerged with its capacity for wealth preservation firmly intact. Being no-one’s liability, gold exhibits the same wealth preserving qualities in the face of financial turmoil, earning a reputation as a crisis hedge in addition to its credentials as an inflation hedge.

The Golden Constant: The English and American Experience 1560-2007 by Roy W Jastram with updated material by Jill Leyland. Published 2009 by Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd (www.e-elgar.com), hardback, 368 pages, ISBN: 978 1 84720 261 1.

How about today?

But from 1971 the opposite is true and we revert to what we today consider the more normal situation of gold acting as a hedge against inflation, as in the 1970s, or the fear of inflation, as in recent times (2009). Note that gold may hold its purchasing power through the decades, there are substantial deviations in price as compared to an index–which index to use?

goldhav2

or………

goldhav1

The key takeaway after 453 years is that despite often substantial fluctuations, gold has held its purchasing power over the centuries in every country.  A German family owning a certain quantity of gold at the end of the nineteenth century would find, if it still owned it today, that it would still buy approximately the same quantity of good and services. In contrast, any quantity of German currency held at the end of the nineteenth century would today be worthless.

Since gold is no one’s liability, it can be viewed as the alternative to fiat money. Investors turn to it when confidence in fiat money, and particular in the US dollar as the world’s leading fiat money, falls. However, gold, despite severe fluctuations, does hold its real value over the centuries and the fact that it has repeatedly shown its ability to safeguard wealth through crises.

History combined with a solid grasp of economic principles allows us to place even gold into perspective.

5 responses to “Reader Question: Investing in a Rising Interest Rate Environment

  1. STOP talking about gold all the time! Give it a break.

  2. I appreciate your Articles on Gold…Thank You!

  3. Do you ever worry that the government may one day seize gold assets or otherwise outlaw the private ownership of gold and other valuable metals? I haven’t thought it through too much, but it would seem like there is less reason to do so than in the past given that our dollars are no longer redeemable for gold.

  4. Well, you can simply buy gold coins and hide them or own bullion offshore like with (CEF). I think it is less possible today due to the Internet. People would be up in arms. Also, if MOST people disobey, then the govt. is powerless.

    You are saying that the U.S. Govt. would be willing to violate the U.S. Constitution and abrogate property rights. A possibility, yes, then most assets wouldn’t be safe without a rule of law.

    I am simply advocating some 1% to 25% of someone’s portfolio to hold bullion as INSURANCE against monetary chaos. Gold is simply non-fiat money. IF you try to trade gold without expertise, then you will most likely lose money but if you hold for 20 to 50 years, gold will maintain purchasing power. However, NOTHING beats owning a great franchise company that can compound its capital at high rates for decades (Coke, GEICO).

    As an INVESTMENT I am in certain mining equities that are well-financed and have strong positions within a distressed industry (FNV, RGLD, SLW, AG, SSRI, EGO, AUY, GQMNF, PPP, AEM, GG, NGD) because of once in a decade discount to gold and silver. I do not advocate this for YOU, but for me. Most mining companies go bust–take a look at the history of the Vancouver Venture exchange. Many exploration companies are a pick ax and a dream with a promoter at the helm.

    I dislike gold and gold mining shares–but I go where I find value. Pray for me.

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