Why Does Gold Have Intrinsic Value

February 9

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Why Does Gold Have Intrinsic Value?

Ilir Salihi

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Gold and silver's intrinsic value comes from a base quality of the two assets: they are money before anything else. The term intrinsic value gets thrown around a bit, finance or otherwise, to denote something whose value isn't "trendy."

When comparing intrinsic and extrinsic value, assets like stocks and bonds can be said to only have the latter. In large part due to inflation, fiat currencies can also be accused of this.

After all, what is a stock, bond or fiat currency? They're all forms of liabilities relating to a single entity. It can be a company or a nation issuing them. As the entity, or issuer, starts having trouble, so too do the assets related to them.

Because gold and silver have no counterparty risk, it's easy to simply attribute a lot of their obvious intrinsic value to that and leave things there.

But in the case of these two, especially when compared with what look like similar physical investments, that's just the start of the story.

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Gold and silver: the true money

 Gold and silver come first, currencies come later. It's an easy thing to miss for anyone who grew up in the absence of the gold standard, which was completely done away with in 1971.

The more the U.S. dollar and with it any other currencies moved away from this tether, the less importance these metals seem to have commanded.

More than 50 years later, we see that "seem" is a key word here. A handful of gold has retained its value: a handful of U.S. dollars has not.

From J.P. Morgan to Ray Dalio, there's no shortage of prominent figures in finance who have plainly stated that they view gold as the primary form of money.

It probably strikes some as odd, but a brief journey through history shows us why these statements are made time and again by those in the know.

Related: Goldco Review - Trusted Gold Dealer?

What does it take for a currency to have lasting value?

Again, the more we view gold and silver as currency and less as assets, the greater our understanding of their role in the financial system will be. After all, even fiat currencies are assets in a sense.

By spreading out your wealth throughout various fiat currencies, whether top or emerging market ones, you're diversifying your portfolio. And it's a sound approach.

The problem is that each of these currencies is prone to inflation. The spikes in consumer prices feels like the worst thing ever for U.S. citizens until they become familiar with the Japanese yen.

Despite inflation or even hyperinflation in recent years, the U.S. dollar is actually very strong right now on the global stage. The Japanese yen, a currency that is often thrown in the same basket as the U.S. dollar, the euro and the pound as marquee fiat, isn't.

It has lost a massive amount of purchasing power relative to the greenback over the past years, which is quite the accomplishment given that the dollar has lost plenty of it.

Japanese gold investors have been reaping returns not unlike those from a well-performing stock. This tells us that no currency is really safe, regardless of how much it's advertised. Well, except gold and silver, of course.

As you're probably aware, gold and silver were originally currency, with "change" coins being made from other metals that form a similar alloy as today's cents. They were used as an everyday means of exchange long before there was such a thing called a banknote, which is really what any currency is.

Part of why this was the case was the sheer difficulty in producing them. I'm sure it hasn't escaped you that you yourself can print a U.S. dollar. If you have a quality printing device, it might even fool some people.

And this sort of sums up the sad reality of paper money in the modern era. If currencies are so easy to make, why not just print more and more?

The process of minting gold and silver coins is strenuous however you want to slice it. Advancements have only gone so far. The U.S. printed trillions of dollars within a few months with almost no effort in what remains a highlight of why fiat currencies don't really work when untethered.

The effort of producing the massive tonnage of the equivalent value in gold and silver coins would have probably dissuaded the U.S. government from engaging in this historic quantitative easing even if they had enough precious metal to go around.

They would have probably looked for sounder policy alternatives. Again, yet another reason why fiat money causes not just an unstable financial system, but also an unstable social one.

Related: Precious Metals ETFs - Ultimate Investor Guide 

gold coins

Does gold have intrinsic value?

Are gold and silver the only assets with fundamental value?

Gold and silver are often called hard assets, and rightly so, but they're not the only ones to enjoy this moniker. Venturing outside of gold and other precious metals, we get to things like industrial commodities and even gemstones.

Gemstones are probably the closest comparison to gold we have when it comes to investment options. But why are we not advertising a gemstone IRA? In comparison to gold and silver, gems vary in quality a lot and it usually takes an expert to tell good from mediocre.

It takes time to exchange them, they're difficult to obtain in general, and very easy to pay too much for. Overall, a clunky and not particularly liquid investment. It also can't be ignored that gemstones are primarily used for gold jewelry.

What about commodities? 

Oil, steel, lumber? Well, how are you going to buy those? Nobody you know that invests in any of these has physical ownership. Instead, they have purchased a derivative on it.

It's an IOU that says: "You own this asset." Oftentimes, you don't even get a piece of paper. Talking about other commodities as hard assets is great when they're compared to things like stocks and bonds, but much less so when pitted against precious metals.

You'll also hear artwork and real estate being thrown in this category as well. Again, both fall prey to some or all of the issues outlined above: clunky, illiquid, difficult to invest in, difficult to trade, and oftentimes messy just to own.

As we get to the whole "universal acceptance" bit, we should probably give each of the metals' main natural properties their own section. Let's start with the start.

Related: Gold IRA Rollover Guide - How to Convert Your 401(k) to Gold & Silver

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Gold and silver: The only universally accepted assets

While you can sell all of the aforementioned everywhere, you can sell physical gold and silver everywhere, too, and with much greater ease.

They're so synonymous with money and value that each nation's currency is constantly priced in them. How is gold doing in British pound terms? You won't hear the same question about any other asset we mentioned.

From pawn shops to online dealers to brick-and-mortar locations specifically named "Cash for gold," you'll have a very easy time trading the shiny metal in for any local currency.

The more of a rush you're in to sell, the greater your losses will probably be compared to spot gold prices. But when we're talking acceptance, this doesn't really factor in.

You can get a passable deal on investment-grade gold and silver bullion you're selling within an hour anywhere in the world in most cases. What other hard asset can claim this?

Gold and silver: Easy to store and manage

It's often said that gold packs a lot of immediate physical value in a small amount of space, and it's true. By buying gold, you've essentially compressed worth in an easy-to-manage item.

It wasn't that long ago that you could buy some kind of house in the U.S. for around $30,000. Provided you aren't living in it but instead bought it as an investment, what does your management of that asset look like? Insurance, inspection, repairs, maintenance... that's all before we actually get into turning a profit.

You can buy a gold bar for $30,000 and store it almost anywhere, so long as it's in protective packaging. As far as minding your investment, that's it, for the most part: unless you're fond of checking it often, there is no hassle involved. And, as the dollar and other currencies erode, it's gaining value just by sitting there.

It's precisely because of this property that we keep hearing about people finding stashed away gold. It can be decades-old or centuries-old. They've stumbled onto a heap of money due to one of the very few assets that enables such a scenario. Which brings us to our third, equally as important point...

Gold and silver: An old investment that ensures future prosperity

We shouldn't be too lenient when it comes to gauging an asset's value over the long-term. These days, even within the sphere of gold investment, 5 to 10 years is treated as a long timespan. But in reality, when it comes to investment and market value, the true long-term starts with a decade and gets rolling with a century.

This is why stocks and bonds disappoint any time intrinsic value was mentioned. Where were these assets a century ago, and where can they hope to be a century from now? The other hard assets we've covered don't exactly stand out in this regard, either:

  • Gemstones and artwork: More long-term value in the former than the latter, but exotic investments with fickle markets
  • Real estate: Good value after a century of maintenance and minding your paperwork
  • Commodities: How is the issuer of your IOU faring?

Liquidity, acceptance and guaranteed long-term value mean that gold and silver can be called the only truly long-term investments, with some argument.

There's no need to put it subtly: by buying up loads of either and storing them properly, you can expect to have financial security 50 years from now, or a century, if you plan to become a supercentenarian.

The same can't really be said for any other asset, and those that enter the discussion come with flaws that make them seem like a runner-up from an investment standpoint.

To understand how deep the gold intrinsic value runs, you need only answer: how would you feel if you inherited an equivalent sum of money in the form of a piece of property, versus a pile of decades-old cash, versus some well-preserved gold bars?

More than likely, the third answer is the universally preferred one. And so the question of gold's intrinsic value kind of answers itself.

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About the Author

Ilir Salihi is the founder and senior editor at IncomeInsider.org. He oversees all content for IncomeInsider and its partner sites. His articles and insights have been featured on Barchart, Benzinga, and Investing.com, among other prominent media channels.

Ilir Salihi


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