A bullion-dollar bank account
Troubled times make gold an even more precious metal. Here's one way it can protect your treasure.
SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0) - High oil prices. Inflation fears. Ballooning deficits. Guerrilla war. Bad news? Not for gold. The asset that shines in bad times has been on a tear recently, surpassing $500 an ounce, a level not seen in decades. In 2005, gold outperformed the fishtailing Dow Jones industrial average by about 19 percent.
But how to cash in? The last time gold prices were this high--in the 1980s--it wasn't easy for small investors to capitalize. Gold-mining stocks are notoriously volatile, and owning actual gold involved insurance and storage expenses. New tools, however, open the current gold rush to all comers. One of the cheapest and easiest ways to play is through GoldMoney.com, a thoroughly Internet-age company created by James Turk, a longtime goldbug and former banker with Chase.
Goldbugs go online
Turk opened GoldMoney.com in 2001 on the English Channel island of Jersey. The company has gotten ink for its novel effort to create a gold-backed currency that companies can use for transactions, but so far GoldMoney's most successful venture is a retail arm that gives investors a new way to buy gold. The number of GoldMoney retail customers almost doubled last year to 17,000, with the total value of their gold reaching about $50 million.
GoldMoney is similar to online banking, except accounts are denominated in "goldgrams" and mils instead of dollars and cents (1,000 mils equals 1 gram). A typical gold bar weighs 400 ounces, which at current prices would fetch roughly $210,000. But GoldMoney lets customers buy any fraction of a bar. The gold is stored in a vault in London and insured by Lloyd's, and since accounts are linked to the U.S. automated clearinghouse, GoldMoney can easily be converted to dollars and wired to any bank. Thanks to efficiencies of the Internet, GoldMoney's exchange rate is just 2 percent over the spot price of gold--far below the markup on, say, gold coins bought through a broker. "Our goal is to bring gold down to the individual," says Turk, 58.
Turk and his customers argue that other ways to invest in gold--such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and brokerages--are too risky or too costly. In the case of an ETF, for instance, investors hold paper whose value depends on the smooth, honest operations of traditional exchanges. Says Mark Kohr, who recently sold his house in Venice, Calif., and began pouring his profit into GoldMoney, "I don't want to sound like a fruitcake, but the appeal of GoldMoney is that it's outside of the system."
For centuries, of course, gold was the system, the standard underlying much of global commerce. But in more modern times, it lost luster, particularly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation making it illegal for individual Americans to own gold coins, bullion, and certificates. That law was rescinded in 1974. Gold prices soared in the inflation-ridden late 1970s but then slumped and stagnated. The metal traded around $250 an ounce in 1999 and has for decades been a lousy long-term investment.
Nevertheless, Turk maintains that gold is like insurance, shielding wealth from global economic calamity. In fact, he and other goldbugs see the recent run-up in gold's price as almost beside the point. In the long term, they say, governments are too quick to print money, which spurs inflation and destroys buying power. "There are too many political factors that can wreck a currency," Turk says. "You have to do what lets you sleep at night." If you think the country is about to collapse, you might as well profit from it.
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