This is a series of articles intended to help you understand how inflation can erode your long term investments and how you should counter those effects in your investment strategy. The first article provided a definition of inflation and showed the effect it has on reducing the value of a dollar over time. Last week’s article discussed the importance of investing in assets that grow faster over time than the rate of inflation. This article will discuss the relationship between the value of the dollar and prices of high demand commodities such as gold during times of inflation.

Valuing the dollar
Normally the dollar is worth more or worth less based on the demand for U.S. goods, services, and assets/products. If foreign investors buy lots U.S. items such as real estate, treasury bonds, stocks, or other, then they must first convert their currency into dollars in order to pay for the purchase. When there are many foreign investors converting to dollars, then the demand for dollars is high and the value of the dollar rises. When demand is down, then the dollar is worth less.

A crude analogy to illustrated to change in value of the dollar
Assume there is a small town of 5,000 people in the middle to high income bracket that all live in apartments due to lack of available land for building homes. Then assume one home is finally built in the town and it is in very high demand. Would it be unreasonable for the asking price on the home to be at least 2 or 3 times as much as for a similar home in a large town that has plenty of housing? Could the price even go as high as 10 times as much or more? Well this is a crude example of how the value of the dollar also goes up when there are fewer dollars available to meet a rising demand by foreign investors wanting to purchase our treasuries, stocks, real estate, etc. Similarly, when there are many more dollars available than demand, then the value of the dollar declines – it is easy to find dollars to convert from their currency. In those times, foreign investors are not seeking to buy as many our things so there is less demand for dollars to convert with.

The current world-wide demand for dollars
With the world-wide financial crisis hitting most foreign countries harder than the U.S., investors in those countries want to buy U.S. issued securities such as treasuries that are backed by the full faith of the U.S. government. Since we have the largest economy in the world, foreign investors feel U.S. securities are the safest available, at least they perceive them more safe than investing in their own country. That is why the dollar has soared in value recently with so many foreign investors seeking these perceived safer investments that must be purchased with U.S. dollars.

Relating gold to the dollar to inflation
Currently, there is also a demand for gold since most investors around the world view it almost as a standard currency that is valued by everyone. That gives it a large base of investors that keep the price high, especially in times of high uncertainty such as the world is currently experiencing.

In terms of the dollar, you need to realize part of the price of gold rising can be attributed to times when the value of the dollar decreases. In those normal times, it is not so much that gold has risen in price, but that it takes more dollars to buy the same amount of gold. As an example, assume you can buy gold for $1,000 per oz. Later, the value of the dollar decreases by 10% to only be worth 90 cent when compared to what it was worth when purchasing $1,000 oz worth of gold. In this case, you would need to have $1,111 to buy the same oz of gold under the current lower valued dollar. This is derived by taking the $1,000 originally paid divided by 90cents for each lower value dollar meaning you will pay $1,111 using these lower value dollars for the same ounce of gold. So, it isn’t that gold has risen, but instead, gold has stayed the same and the value of each dollar to buy that gold has gone down. This is a time of inflation when the value of the dollar goes down, which is why prices paid for many things seem like they are going up

Relating gold to the dollar to deflation
This also works in the opposite. If over time the value of the dollar had instead increased by 10%, then each new dollar would be worth $1.10 of the older dollars. In that case, we take the original dollar paid $1,000 oz of gold and divide by the new $1.10 value dollar to only pay $909 per ounce of the same gold. In this case it looks like deflation since the price has decreased over time. This would also be true of many other items when the dollar increases in value as we are currently seeing.

Amplifying my point about the price of gold during inflation and deflation
An interesting observation I’ve made recently is in times of very high uncertainty, as we have around the world today, there is the added demand for gold that is also causing the price to increase on top of whatever the value of the dollar does. If the value of the dollar increases, as it has recently due to the high demand for our treasuries, gold has still increased due to high demand by investors around the world. So you can’t always only count on the straight mathematical price model I used above to calculate the price of gold during inflation and deflation.

Notice that many commodities follow a similar pattern during inflation and deflation where their prices move in the opposite direction of the value of the dollar, under normal market conditions. As the dollar rises, it takes less dollars to buy the same commodity like oil (affecting the price you pay per gallon for gas at the pump), silver, gold, etc. As dollars fall, it takes more dollars to buy the same items. Just a general rule to think about when investing – keep a close eye on the value of the dollar and world demand trends for the dollar (rising demand or decreasing demand).

Accredited sophisticated investors are very mindful of such trends before making investment decisions. Don’t let them take advantage of your fear when you sell or buy at the wrong time when they are doing the opposite. Continue educating yourself about the investments being considered and all factors that affect those investments.

I hope this article helps you to not just look at the price of gold or other commodities by itself. Consider the valuation of the dollar, world demand trends for both the dollar and the commodity being considered, etc. Look for patterns and relationships. Understand those well before moving forward. Be an educated investor and you will be way ahead of the ordinary investor who wants to “get in before it is too late” or “get out since it is going to crash”. Those are opportunistic times for the educated investor to do the opposite of the crowd.

Copyright 2009 Ole Cram, President of Marcobe Investments, Inc.
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