Investors have often used gold tactically in their portfolios, with an aim to help preserve wealth with a relatively liquid asset that can potentially help navigate risk during market corrections, geopolitical stress or persistent dollar weakness. But in addition to gold’s tactical benefits, its function as a core diversifying asset during a variety of business cycles may demonstrate that gold can potentially play a more long-term strategic role.
Gold has the potential to enhance portfolio construction strategies on several fronts — providing broad benefits that can potentially support strategic investment efforts across multiple business cycles. Primary potential benefits include:
Here we show how the key pillars and historical benefits of gold investing can provide potential support for these vital elements of investors’ portfolios.
1. Gold and Risk Management: The Potential Short-term and Strategic Benefits
Managing risks — both short term and unknown — is critical to optimizing portfolio performance. And gold’s historical benefits during a variety of market and business cycles can potentially provide a ballast for portfolios during good times and bad by adding:
Portfolio Diversification Gold has demonstrated a low and negative historical correlation to many financial indices over time, potentially helping to smooth out volatility and preserve wealth. For example, gold has shown a 0.00 and 0.08 monthly correlation to the S&P 500 Index and Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, respectively, since the 1970s.1 This persistent and historically low correlation to many other financial assets is rooted in gold’s diverse sources of demand — both cyclical and countercyclical — which is illustrated during different phases of a full economic cycle.
Adding an allocation to gold may potentially provide diversification that can help mitigate portfolio drawdowns, increase portfolio efficiency through higher Sharpe Ratios and provide a potential store of value for investors over time.
Managing Market Downturns With a reputation as a perceived safe-haven asset,2 gold’s performance has the potential to shine during extreme volatility and market turbulence, growing less correlated to traditional equities and providing a potential ballast for portfolios that can help limit drawdowns.
As 2020 transformed asset markets, investors were faced with constructing portfolios that can weather the low interest rate and risk landscape. Gold’s historic benefits may potentially provide advantages to the modern-day portfolio that can help investors navigate these evolving risks.
Source: Bloomberg Finance, L.P., State Street Global Advisors. Data from August 25, 1987 to September 30, 2021. Date ranges for the time periods noted are: 2008 Financial Crisis: 08/11/08 - 03/09/09; Coronavirus: 02/19/20 - 03/23/20; Black Monday: 08/25/87 - 12/04/87; 2002 Recession: 03/19/02 - 07/23/02; Dot Com Bubble: 09/29/00 - 04/04/01; Gulf War: 07/16/90 - 10/11/90; LTCM & Asian Crisis: 07/17/98 - 08/31/98; US Credit Downgrade: 07/07/11 - 10/03/11; Subprime Meltdown: 10/09/07 - 03/10/08; September 11th: 08/24/01 - 09/21/01; Flash Crash: 04/23/10 - 07/02/10; Trade War/Recession Fears: 09/21/18 - 12/26/18. US Equity represented by S&P 500 Total Return. Gold = gold spot price. Index returns are unmanaged and reflect peak to trough returns for the stated period. Index returns do not reflect the deduction of any fees or expenses. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Low Correlation to Other Assets and Alternatives Based on gold’s low correlation to many traditional markets, gold has historically provided positive returns during extreme bouts of volatility and market turmoil — earning it a “perceived safe-haven” reputation with some investors.
Unlike several other asset classes typically used as portfolio diversifiers, gold has historically been an efficient source of portfolio diversification, with its low correlation historically growing stronger over time, while many real assets have moved in an opposite direction,3 more closely aligning with movements of traditional equities and bonds.
Source: Bloomberg Finance, L.P., State Street Global Advisors. Data from 12/31/1993 to 09/30/2021. Gold = gold spot price. Commodities = S&P GSCI Total Return Index. Hedge Funds = Hedge Fund Research HFRI FOF Diversified Index. REITs = FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITS Total Return Index. Private Equity = LPX50 Listed Private Equity Index Total Return. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
2. Capital Appreciation and Gold’s Potential
Gold may merit consideration in more than just down markets, with its benefits potentially providing investors longer-term and strategic opportunities in terms of capital appreciation. Gold’s diversification and historically uncorrelated returns can potentially help limit episodes of portfolio drawdown, and that can help optimize portfolios by limiting impairments to capital. But gold is not just for managing the downside and may provide the potential opportunity to help investors grow their capital during certain market cycles, with some growth potential of its own.
Historical Long-Term Returns Gold has historically provided competitive long-term returns through a variety of business cycles — good and bad — adding longer-term diversification that can potentially help with optimizing portfolio returns.
Source: Bloomberg Finance, L.P., State Street Global Advisors. Data as of September 30, 2021. Gold = gold spot price, US Cash = ICE BofAML US 3-Month Treasury Bill Index, US Bonds = Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Total Return Index, Global Equities = MSCI World Total Return Index, Commodities = S&P GSCI Total Return Index. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Positive Risk-Adjusted Returns Growing the value of portfolios and optimizing returns across business cycles is essential when constructing portfolios for the long run. Further, a low correlation between the asset classes in a portfolio can also potentially help lower portfolio volatility and therefore, all else being equal, increase diversification that can potentially improve Sharpe Ratios and enhance the overall risk-adjusted return of the portfolio over time.
As illustrated in our research article, Case For Constructing Portfolios with SPDR® Gold Shares, we examined how including SPDR® Gold Shares in a hypothetical multi-asset portfolio – that also includes global stocks, various classes of fixed income, real estate, private equity, and commodities – may improve its risk-return characteristics. We found that holding between 2% and 10% of SPDR® Gold Shares between January 1, 2005 (SPDR® Gold Shares’ first year of operation) and the current period may have improved the hypothetical portfolio’s cumulative returns and Sharpe ratio and lowered its maximum drawdown, as compared to a portfolio without any gold-backed investments.
Illustrating the Potential Benefits of a Gold Allocation in a Portfolio
Defining the Hypothetical Portfolios
Asset Class Weightings for Hypothetical Blended Portfolios A, B, C and D
3. Preserving Wealth: More Potential Strategic Benefits of Gold’s Diversification
Based on gold’s historical diversification and positive risk-adjusted returns during market turbulence, it has a track record of potentially helping to temper short-term volatility and limit drawdowns.
But an allocation to gold may support preserving wealth on a longer-term basis too, with its historical positive longer-term risk-adjusted returns during a variety of business cycles helping investors weather unforeseen risks and capital impairments that can erode a portfolio’s value over time. See the above chart for gold’s longer-term performance and how it can potentially influence portfolio construction during a variety of business cycles over time.
Deep Liquidity Gold’s liquidity may help with wealth preservation, providing investors a relatively deep and liquid trading market that may be a key benefit of holding gold strategically. With a historical trading volume on par with major debt, currency, and equity markets, the estimated average daily turnover of gold is more than US $158 billion, which is equivalent to US $40 trillion a year.
And even during turbulent markets , like those experienced during March 2020, gold market liquidity has stood the test of time, with gold trading volumes hitting US $237 billion in March during the initial COVID-19 lockdown,4 providing investors ready access to a liquid trading market— or access to cash — when many other assets were declining in value.
Historical Store of Value Longer term, gold can potentially provide a unique store of value for investors, helping to preserve purchasing power over time. Gold has kept up with rising prices by historically providing positive returns during periods of rising inflation, particularly during environments of extreme inflation.5
Additionally, gold has showcased its ability to hedge against currency debasement by historically maintaining a negative correlation to the US dollar.6 Taken together, gold’s ability to keep up with prices, in conjunction with currency depreciation, may potentially help investors maintain purchasing power and preserve value against inflationary pressures.
Investors may consider thinking about gold not just as a tactical asset to be used in times of crisis, but instead, as a long-term, strategic investment with unique and diverse potential benefits. See how a gold allocation contributed to performance in a hypothetical blended portfolio in our whitepaper The Role of Gold in Today’s Global Multi-Asset Portfolio.
1Bloomberg Finance, L.P., & State Street Global Advisors; LBMA Gold Price PM (US$/oz) has demonstrated a 0.00 and 0.08 monthly correlation to the S&P 500 Index and Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregated Bond Index, respectively. S&P 500 correlation is from 8/31/1971 to 9/30/2021 and Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index correlation is from 3/31/1976 to 9/30/2021 due to data availability. The correlation coefficient measures the strength and direction of a linear relationship between two variables. It measures the degree to which the deviation of one variable from its mean is related to that of a different variable from its respective mean, with 0 being uncorrelated and 1 being perfectly correlated.
2Assets may be considered “safe havens” based on investor perception that an asset’s value will hold steady or climb even as the value of other investments drops during times of economic stress. Perceived safe-haven assets are not guaranteed to maintain value at any time.
3Bloomberg Finance, L.P., State Street Global Advisors. Data from 12/31/93 to 9/30/2021. Gold = gold spot price. Commodities = S&P GSCI Total Return Index, REITs = FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITS Total Return Index. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
4World Gold Council, Bloomberg, Bank for International Settlements, London Bullion Market Association. Data as of September 30, 2021. Estimates based on clearing statistics published by the LBMA, LBMA-i and non-LBMA-i OT (estimates represent daily averages in US$ billion for Q2’2021), COMEX, SHFE, SGE, LME precious, Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange, ICE Futures, US Metals, Borsa Istanbul, Bursa Malaysia, Moscow Exchange, and Tokyo Commodity Exchange.
5Bloomberg Finance L.P. & State Street Global Advisors. Gold has increased by an average annual rate of 16.2% when price inflation has been running above 5% per year from August 31, 1971 to September 30, 2021.
6Bloomberg Finance L.P. & State Street Global Advisors. LBMA Gold Price PM (US$/oz) has demonstrated a -0.38 monthly correlation to the US dollar Index from August 31, 1971 to September 30, 2021.
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index A benchmark that provides a measure of the performance of the U.S. dollar-denominated investment-grade bond market. The “Agg” includes public offerings in the US of investment-grade government bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds, mortgage pass through securities, commercial mortgage backed securities and asset backed securities.
Bloomberg Barclays Emerging Markets USD Aggregate Bond TR Index A flagship hard currency Emerging Markets debt benchmark that includes USD-denominated debt from sovereign, quasi-sovereign, and corporate EM issuers.
Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Corporate Bond TR Index A corporate Index that is a flagship measure of global investment grade, fixed-rate corporate debt. This multi-currency benchmark includes bonds from developed and emerging markets issuers within the industrial, utility and financial sectors.
Bloomberg Barclays Global Corporate High Yield Bond TR Index A multi-currency flagship measure of the global high yield debt market. The index represents the union of the US High Yield, the Pan-European High Yield, and Emerging Markets (EM) Hard Currency High Yield Indices. The high yield and emerging markets sub-components are mutually exclusive.
Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Government Bond Index TR A government index that is a measure of investment grade rated debt from 25 local currency markets. This multi-currency benchmark includes Treasury and government-related fixed-rate bonds from both developed and emerging markets issuers.
Bloomberg Barclays World Inflation Linked Bond TR Index Measures the investment-grade, government inflation-linked debt from 12 different developed market countries. Investability is a key criterion for inclusion of markets in this index, and it is designed to include only those markets in which a global government linker fund is likely and able to invest.
Bloomberg Commodity Index TR A broadly diversified commodity price index distributed by Bloomberg Indexes that tracks 22 commodity futures and seven sectors. No one commodity can compose less than 2 percent or more than 15 percent of the index, and no sector can represent more than 33 percent of the index.
A basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable, or “fungible,” with other commodities of the same type. Commodities are most often used as inputs in the production of other goods or services. For example, crude oil is a commodity that is used to make motor fuels, heating oil and lubricants.
Correlation The historical tendency of two investments to move together. Investors often combine investments with low correlations to diversify portfolios.
Correlation Coefficient The correlation coefficient measures the strength and direction of a linear relationship between two variables. It measures the degree to which the deviations of one variable from its mean are related to those of a different variable from its respective mean.
Currency Depreciation The decline of a currency’s value relative to another currency.
Diversification A strategy of combining a broad mix of investments and asset classes to potentially limit risk, although diversification does not guarantee protection against a loss in falling markets.
Diversification benefits In modern portfolio theory, diversification is an approach used to potentially reduce the overall risk of the portfolio by holding a mix of assets with low correlations to each other. The potential benefit of holding uncorrelated assets is that some investments may rise while others fall.
Downside Risk A given security’s potential to lose value if a prevailing market trend suddenly changes. The term also refers to the specific financial amount of the “worst-case” loss that that can occur in such sudden shifts.
Drawdown A specific decline in the stock market during a specific time period that is measured in percentage terms as a peak-to-trough move.
Drawdown Protection Investments that could help insulate an overall portfolio from a decline in stocks or other financial markets. Examples include cash or other investments that have historically held up relatively well in down or volatile markets, such as gold or equity put options.
Economic Cycle Periods of growth or contraction in the economy, typically called periods of expansion or recession. Different sectors and industries typically perform differently based on particular phases of the economic cycle.
FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITS Index The index is a free-float-adjusted market capitalization-weighted index that includes all tax-qualified REITs listed in the NYSE, AMEX, and NASDAQ National Market.
Global Property Research General Index A broad-based global real estate benchmark that contains all listed real estate companies that conform to General Property Research’s index-qualification rules, bringing the number of index constituents to more than 650. The index’s inception date was Dec. 31, 1983.
HFRI FOF Diversified Index The index invests in a variety of strategies among multiple managers; historical annual returns and/or standard deviations are generally similar to those of the HFRI Fund of Fund Composite Index. A fund in the HFRI FOF Diversified Index tends to show minimal loss in down markets while achieving superior returns in up markets.
Hypothetical Blended Portfolio Performance Methodology
The hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Returns shown in the example do not represent those of a fund but were achieved by mathematically combining the actual performance data of MSCI AC World Daily TR Index, Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Government Bond Index, Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Global Corporate Bond Index, Bloomberg Barclays Emerging Markets Debt Index, Global Property Research General Index, S&P Listed Private Equity Index, Bloomberg Barclays World Inflation Linked Bond Index, Bloomberg Barclays Global Corporate High Yield Index, S&P GSCI Index, and SPDR® Gold Shares (GLD®) between January 1, 2005 and the current period noted. Each portfolio is rebalanced at the beginning of each year to maintain target portfolio weights. The performance assumes no transaction and rebalancing costs, so actual results will differ. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Performance of GLD reflects annual expense ratio of 0.40%. The impact of adding GLD to an investor’s portfolio will vary based upon an investor’s asset allocation decisions and market performance, among other things.
ICE BofAML US 3-Month Treasury Bill Index This is an unmanaged index that is comprised of a single U.S. Treasury issue with approximately three months to final maturity, purchased at the beginning of each month and held for one full month.
Inflation An overall increase in the price of an economy’s goods and services during a given period, translating to a loss in purchasing power per unit of currency. Inflation generally occurs when growth of the money supply outpaces growth of the economy. Central banks attempt to limit inflation — and avoid deflation — in order to keep the economy running smoothly.
Liquidity The ability to quickly buy or sell an investment in the market without impacting its price. Trading volume is a primary determinant of liquidity.
LBMA Gold Price
The LBMA Gold Price is determined twice each business day — 10:30 a.m. London time (i.e., the LBMA Gold Price AM) and 3:00 p.m. London time (i.e., the LBMA Gold Price PM) by the participants in a physically settled, electronic and tradable auction.
LPX 50 Listed Private Equity Index The index is designed to represent the global performance of the 50 most highly capitalized and liquid listed private equity companies. The index is diversified across regions, private equity investment styles, financing styles and vintages. The reference currency of the LPX50 Index is EUR, CHF and USD. The index is available as a Price Index and Total Return (Net).
MSCI World Index The index captures large- and mid-cap representation across 23 Developed Markets. With 1,644 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country.
Real Assets Physical or tangible assets that have value and often are investable. Real assets include precious metals, commodities, real estate, agricultural land and oil; their inclusion in most diversified portfolios is considered appropriate.
Risk-Adjusted Return A risk-based profitability measurement framework for analyzing risk-adjusted financial performance; it is designed to provide a consistent view of profitability across different assets.
Sharpe Ratio A measure for calculating risk-adjusted returns that has become the industry standard for such calculations. It was developed by Nobel laureate William F. Sharpe. The Sharpe ratio is the average return earned in excess of the risk-free rate per unit of volatility or total risk. The higher the Sharpe ratio, the better.
Spot Gold Price The price in spot markets for gold. In US dollar terms, spot gold is referred to with the symbol “XAU,” which refers to the price of one troy ounce of gold in USD terms.
S&P GSCI Total Return Index The S&P GSCI Total Return Index in USD is widely recognized as the leading measure of general commodity price movements and inflation in the world economy. The index is calculated primarily on a world production-weighted basis comprised of the principal physical commodities futures contracts.
S&P 500® Total Return Index The version of the popular benchmark for U.S. large-cap equities that includes 500 companies from leading industries and captures about 80% coverage of available market capitalization in the US that reflects returns after reinvestment of dividends.
US Dollar Index / US Dollar Index (DXY) A currency benchmark that measures the performance of the US dollar against a basket of currencies: the euro (EUR), the yen (JPY), the British pound (GBP), the Canadian dollar (CAD), the Swiss franc (CHF) and the Swedish krona (SEK). Its shorthand symbol in financial markets is “DXY.”
Volatility The tendency of a market index or security to jump around in price. Volatility is typically expressed as the annualized standard deviation of returns. In modern portfolio theory, securities with higher volatility are generally seen as riskier due to higher potential losses.
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