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Buy, Sell, or Hold: Gold

By Anand Chokkavelu, CFA - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 12:40PM

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Is all that glitters a buy?

Gold has been on an absolute rampage.

While the S&P 500 sits around where it was a decade ago, and real estate tries to shake off its hangover, gold is sitting north of $1,200 an ounce -- up over fourfold in the last 10 years.

But we care more about where gold's going, not where it's been. The price of gold determines the fate of gold holders like SPDR Gold Shares (NYSE: GLD) and Sprott Physical Gold Trust ETV (NYSE: PHYS) and the companies that mine it, like Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX) and Goldcorp (NYSE: GG).

Is the gold industry a buy right now? To determine that, I'll summarize the buy, sell, and hold arguments for gold. Then I'll tell you what I think.

Buy: Bulls love gold as a store of value when there are fears of inflation and currency devaluation. For example, if the U.S. dollar suffers under the weight of stimulus spending and a burgeoning debt load, gold proponents see the metal prospering (unlike greenbacks, you can't print more gold). In fact, that fear is what has helped propel gold to its current levels. Prognosticators of future fear see gold at $2,000 an ounce and beyond.

Sell: Bears point to the gold run-up as a sign of overvaluation and they question its usefulness in a deflationary environment. They also contrast the valuation of gold with its fellow commodity -- oil. Whereas oil's price is driven by demand for its use as an energy source, gold's price isn't really driven by its nominal practical uses.  

Hold: As recent history attests, gold's tendency to be largely uncorrelated with other asset classes can be useful to smooth out a portfolio's performance.

My call
It's funny to me that the cure to a declining fiat currency backed by nothing but "full faith and credit" is supposed to be a metal with virtually no real intrinsic value. Trying to value gold is like trying to value art. You can tell me a painting is worth $2 million or that it's worth $200 and it's hard for me to argue against either.

That said, as a small portion of a portfolio, I see no harm in gold. I agree with my colleague Mike Pienciak that gold itself is a safer bet than the gold miners. However, over the long term I much prefer stocks. If you're looking for commodity stocks, I see some opportunity in the oil industry. I like oil major ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) for stability and offshore drilling services provider Transocean (NYSE: RIG) for a riskier play.

Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Exxon and Transocean. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Exxon Mobil Corporation Stock Quote
Exxon Mobil Corporation
XOM
$89.08 (0.71%) $0.63
Barrick Gold Corporation Stock Quote
Barrick Gold Corporation
GOLD
$16.08 (3.08%) $0.48
Transocean Ltd. Stock Quote
Transocean Ltd.
RIG
$3.40 (-1.16%) $0.04
Goldcorp Inc. Stock Quote
Goldcorp Inc.
GG
SPDR Gold Trust Stock Quote
SPDR Gold Trust
GLD
$165.96 (0.41%) $0.67
Sprott Physical Gold Trust Stock Quote
Sprott Physical Gold Trust
PHYS
$13.94 (0.43%) $0.06

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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