Everything You Wanted To Know About Gold But Were Afraid To Ask

I remember where I was the first time I heard about gold. I was in my 1995 Toyota Tercel in downtown San Francisco, listening to the radio. Usually I listened to the Razor and Mr. T on KNBR 680, but for some reason I had the news on. The announcer mentioned that gold was up that day, to $265 an ounce.

It wasn’t a white light moment. And gold didn’t seem exceptionally cheap to me. $265 an ounce seemed like a lot. But if I’d known anything at all about the price history, I might have had a different opinion.

I didn’t think about gold much when I got to Lehman Brothers in 2001, either. I was getting a job in equities. All the jobs were in equities or fixed income. I didn’t even know that Lehman Brothers had a commodities desk, and even if I did, nobody would have thought about getting a job there.

Around this time I was reading a lot of Ayn Rand stuff, and I kept coming back to Alan Greenspan’s 1966 essay titled “Gold and Economic Freedom.” I probably read it a hundred times and even memorized parts of it. The takeaway was that if the government had too much debt, it would be compelled to print money to buy the debt to keep interest rates down.

The year was 2005—we were still three years away from quantitative easing, although it was already a twinkle in Bernanke’s eye.

That was about the first time that I thought of gold as an investment. And coincidentally, that was the time that some folks from State Street and the World Gold Council came by the office to sign us up as Authorized Participants for the new gold ETF, GLD.

To this day, GLD remains a very important financial innovation—subsequent attempts to securitize commodities have led issuers to create products in ETN form that tracked or held futures contracts, introducing basis and roll risk into the equation.

GLD is simple—it holds physical gold. A few years later, there would be some arguments about “paper gold” and unallocated versus allocated gold. But GLD is still trucking to this day, and it’s the most liquid and practical way to buy large quantities of gold.

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