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Buy Dividends, Not Gold

By Benjamin Shepherd on March 11, 2016

Gold has gotten off to an epic start this year, gaining nearly 20% so far in 2016 as investors worry about negative interest rates in Japan and Europe, shaky bank stocks and slow economic growth. That’s gold best start to a year ever and a pretty clear sign that people are worried. But if the past is a guide to the future, people would be better off buying dividends.

They’re so worried, BlackRock actually had to suspend the issuance of new shares of iShares Gold Trust (NYSE: IAU), one of the most popular physical gold ETFs on the market, until more shares could be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. When you or I buy shares of the ETF, we’re buying shares that are already on the market. The only way I can think of for the fund to have hit the limit of its registered shares is if there has been strong institutional demand and large lots of “creation units” are being bought. Considering the fund has raked in roughly $1.4 billion in new assets so far this year, that’s probably exactly what happened.

Granted I don’t have the same resources as, say, the Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Banks of the world, but this run-up in gold just seems incredibly overdone. With all signs still pointing to the relative health of the U.S. economy and the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan still in a very accommodative mood, I find it tough to imagine a scenario where things get bad enough to justify this level of interest in the yellow metal. Heck, at this rate, ECB President Mario Draghi is on track to make Ben Bernanke’s bazooka look like a popgun.

While I do think it’s a good idea to have some gold in your portfolio as insurance against the unlikely event the global economy really does crash, I wouldn’t get involved with gold now unless you’re a short-term trader looking for a quick pop.

For one thing, global fundamentals look better today than they did at the end of 2015, so I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this sudden surge of interest. We continue to see solid job growth here in the U.S. and the consumer appears to be rebounding, growth in Europe is steady-to-slightly improving and even China seems to at least be stabilizing. I just don’t see an epic enough recession on the horizon to rationalize this surging interest in portfolio protection.

My other issue with gold is that, over the long haul, you’re better off buying dividends instead of metal.

The value of iShares Gold Trust has fallen by 2.3% over the past five years, while SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (NYSE: SDY), which tracks the High Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index, has gained 12.4%. That index tracks dividend paying stocks in the S&P Composite 1500 that have increased their dividend for 20 consecutive years and meet certain liquidity requirements, then weights them by yield.

Since we’re seven years into a bull market, it’s not particularly surprising that dividend stocks have outperformed gold. But stretch the time frame out to 10 years, which includes the worst recession in living memory, and IAU has returned an annualized 8.5% while SDY has gained 7.7%. Your returns on SDY would have been even higher if you were reinvesting your dividends and it would have clearly outperformed gold.

You would have done even better buying individual Dividend Aristocrat stocks such as 3M (NYSE: MMM) which has gained nearly 10% annualized over the past decade, Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT) which gained 9.6% or any number of the other ones.

Again, I’m not saying that gold is a bad thing and, especially if capital preservation is your top priority, putting maybe 5% of your portfolio into the yellow metal wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. But if you’re a long-term investor, stocks that pay you a steady income stream perform better over the long haul then metal that just sits in a safe.

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