As if investors needed any more reminding about economic conditions, CNBC’s Jim Cramer recently recommended Americans diversify with gold in one of the network’s financial features. Cramer, whose show mostly covers the stock market, said he likes gold as one of only three assets in a recession. The other two?
Well, honestly they’re a little less accessible to the average American… “Masterwork paintings” and, well, there’s just no other way to say this, “incredible mansions.”
The almost ridiculous nature of the other two items on the list tells us a few things. It seems that Cramer, like many others, views gold as the only asset one can truly fall back on during times of crisis. Consider for a moment the liquidity of “masterwork paintings,” or the wisdom of the time-honored phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s art.” What defines a painting as a “masterwork,” exactly?
Or how often does an “incredible mansion” go up for sale? What qualifies it as “incredible” rather than, say, an everyday “mansion”?
Finally, just how easy are these tangible assets to buy and sell?
Of Cramer’s three recommended assets, only physical gold is fungible, liquid and (most importantly) accessible to everyone. It’s also a lot easier to recognize than “masterwork” or “incredible” investments.
What’s the best way to own gold? Cramer doesn’t recommend an ETF or mining shares:
Physical gold is the cheapest way to do it.
This recommendation didn’t come a moment too soon, either… What could have been considered a “consumer crisis” in the form of four-decade-record inflation has now come for stock market investors – in a big and brutal way. As of last Monday, the S&P 500 officially entered a bear market, although it was only a formality given its 20% year-to-date losses.
So long as the stock market is performing well, it’s as if there is no trouble. We can, for example, ignore an 8.6% inflation rate that is rising past 40-year highs despite Federal Reserve policy tightening. But when trouble hits stocks, it’s panic time.
Cramer’s wording is telling enough, as he does seem to acknowledge that we are either in, or headed towards, a recession. For as many analysts, experts and banks that we can find cautioning against an extreme risk of recession, there are almost as many going the other way. It won’t take long to find a forecast that dismisses the notion of a recession entirely or otherwise says a crisis will be short-lived.
It begets the question: what exactly is needed for someone to ring the recession bells? Businesses were hammered by lockdowns and only kept up by monetary stimulus that has now dissipated. The same holds true for large, publicly-traded companies. The stimulus-ending crash is actually worsening what would have been a “natural” correction of the longest bull market in stock history.
Then we get to inflation. The Federal Reserve’s only stated way of bringing inflation back to 2% territory would be to cartoonishly increase the nominal interest rate, as with any other central bank. Inflation is, after all, a global theme. It just so happens that the U.S. government has a $30 trillion debt, on which it has to pay interest. The larger the interest rates, the greater the debt payments. The same holds true for corporate and private debt.
We are three years into a crisis, but we are reaching the territory where Wall Street, central banks, private banks and the like can no longer look away. Their preferred method of dealing with financial crises, or the only method ever utilized, was bailouts. That’s how 2008 was swept under the rug.
Yet the bailout already happened early on into this crisis, with $4.6 trillion being “produced” to pretend like nothing’s happening. The bailout worked in 2008, but it has clearly failed this time around. We again find ourselves in uncharted territory.
In the 1970s, interest rates were 13% (compared to today’s 1.5%). That’s why the hiking approach somewhat worked. In 2008, inflation was near the 2% target, rather than above the 40-year high of 8.6%. That’s why the money-printing approach somewhat worked.
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Cramer likes the only asset proven to hold its ground in any situation, along with large houses full of nice paintings.