Republished from Money and Markets (October 5, 2006 edition):
At the height of the U.S. Civil War, the combined military expenditures of the North and South were running at an estimated $2.5 million per day – $29.5 billion a day in today’s dollars.
By the end of the war in 1865, $8 billion had been spent, the equivalent of $944 billion today.
To cover the staggering costs, taxes, tariffs and duties were raised to new highs. Tidal waves of government bonds were issued. Interest rates soared. Money was printed with reckless abandon, and inflation took off like a bat out of hell.
The result: By the end of the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union currencies had lost so much value that a pair of boots cost $2,361 in today’s dollars. Butter was the equivalent of $177 per pound.
No one wanted to hold paper currency, period. But the stock market, viewed as an inflation hedge, soared during much of the war, with some issues, especially railroads, rising 50%, 60%, 70%, or more.
Even so, some of the biggest gains were being made in the gold trading pit in New York: Between 1861 and 1863, the price of gold shot up from $20.67 to over $35 an ounce, a 75% gain.
In 1864, gold exploded to $53.35, or $800 in today’s dollars. It then went even higher, nearly tripling to $162.50 on September 24, 1869. That’s $2,252 an ounce in today’s dollars!
Prices finally retreated when President Grant broke the back of the bull market and the U.S. Treasury dumped more than $4 million of gold on the market. Still, the price of gold never fell below its pre-Civil War level of $20.67.
Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, who led the gold rally in the 1860s, are history. Twenty-four U.S. presidents have come and gone. The characters have changed, but the song remains the same …Why Circumstances Today Are Eerily Similar to the Forces Behind the Civil War Gold Boom
The war on terror is costing the U.S. $200 million every 24 hours. To date, the war has cost $332 billion.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the total cost of the war will end up north of $1 trillion, including up to $300 billion in future health costs for wounded troops. That’s nearly 20% of our country’s current gross domestic product.
And in terms of expenditures per soldier, the war on terror is the most expensive war in the history of the U.S.
As in the 1860s, the national debt is now mushrooming out of control. Including government agencies and government-sponsored enterprises, it stands at $11.3 trillion today.
That’s more than $37,000 of debt for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.
The total IOUs the government is now liable for — including unfunded Social Security, Medicare, government pensions, military benefits, and more — is an estimated $54 trillion.
Meanwhile, much like during the Civil War, the U.S. dollar is coming under pressure, creating the equivalent of a financial black hole. In the past four years alone, the dollar has lost an average of 30% of its value against a basket of the world’s currencies.
As you can see from the chart, the U.S. dollar stands on the edge of a precipice, and it looks like it’s about to start plunging anew. This is why I think ... Gold Remains Your Single Best Protection
To be sure, there are huge differences between the 19th century Civil War and the 21st century War on Terror. But the parallels in the economic environments are not to be underestimated, in my view.
I’ve long thought that gold could easily hit $1,000 an ounce. Today, I’m more certain than ever. Indeed, by the time this gold bull market ends, I’m quite confident we’ll see the yellow metal at more than $2,000.
Food for thought: Gold’s 1980 high of $850 an ounce would be the equivalent of $2,150 in today’s dollars if adjusted for inflation over the last 26 years. That’s unusually close to its peak in 1864.
Strange coincidence? I don’t think so. It’s just another indication that the $2,000 level is not an unrealistic target.
By far, the most important thing to realize is this: Gold is the single best protection against the scenario we see unfolding. And, as an investment to hold for the next several years, I think it’s better than bonds, better than Dow stocks, and better than tech stocks. In fact, gold is a better long-term investment than any other asset out there, in my opinion.
Reason: Gold should hold its value more firmly than nearly all other assets during broad declines, and it should substantially outperform during major advances.
I believe that, long term, it has more upside potential than silver, oil, or copper. Gold is money … real money … real wealth. It has stood the test of time, like no other asset in the world. Its history goes back over 5,000 years. And its history should go on for another 5,000.
That doesn’t mean you should run out and put 100% of your money into gold. Far from it! Keep no more than 10% of your net worth in physical gold or the equivalent, using today’s gold bullion Exchange-Traded Funds, like the StreetTracks Gold Fund (GLD).
You might also consider putting another 10% into gold mining shares, where you get upside leverage on the price of precious yellow metal.A few rules about gold investments though ...Rule #1
: Never invest in just one mining company. Rather, invest in a minimum of three at a time for diversification.Rule #2
: Stay away from mining companies that hedge more than 50% of their in-ground gold reserves, or their annual gold production. In a rising gold market, those so-called “hedges” could cause serious losses.Rule #3
: For gold mining shares, I like to use a trailing 10% stop loss to help reduce risk. Don’t lower the stop when the market moves against you. But raise it each time the stock gains 3% from your entry price on a closing basis. If you’re stopped out, don’t fret. Assuming there hasn’t been any serious adverse fundamental change in the company, there should be ample opportunity to get back in -- either on the next dip, or when the stock shows renewed strength.Rule #4
: Always keep the big picture in view. The gold strategies I’m talking about here are designed for your core, long-term portfolio. What the price of gold does from one day to the next should not be an issue for you.
You’re riding a major trend. Let it do most of the work for you.
LarryThis investment news is brought to you by Money and Markets. Money and Markets is a free daily investment newsletter from Martin D. Weiss and Weiss Research analysts offering the latest investing news and financial insights for the stock market, including tips and advice on investing in gold, energy and oil. Dr. Weiss is a leader in the fields of investing, interest rates, financial safety and economic forecasting. To view archives or subscribe, visit http://www.MoneyandMarkets.com