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The Golden Rule

Recession worries? Look past the pot of gold and set your sights on commodities.
February 1, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/188688

The e-mail said, "The big one is blowing in; an economic storm that's been building for years has hit the United States, and there are no financial remedies or political tools to stop its destructive force. The dollar is crashing, America is sinking and the world is cashing out of Uncle Sam's funny money."

Wow, that sounds bad. It sounds, as the e-mail went on to discuss, like a time when I might want to consider putting some of my money in gold rather than in stocks, bonds or cash. Gold is often seen as a safe haven during topsy-turvy economic times since it's a so-called hard asset that can be a hedge against inflation. The trouble is that neither you nor I can believe the overwrought and under-baked marketing pitches of gold bugs, which hatch like mayflies on a trout stream any time the word recession hits the headlines. It's better to think a little more broadly. Consider, in short, the role commodities play in your portfolio overall. It makes sense to put some investments in asset classes that move counter to inflation, but they shouldn't all be in gold and probably shouldn't total more than 5 percent of your holdings at most.

For example, the Vanguard Precious Metals & Mining fund soared higher in 2007 due to a diversified metals portfolio, and it charges only 0.35 percent in expenses. It offers plenty of exposure to gold and mining stocks but leavens things with other commodities (as long as you can make the $10,000 minimum initial investment). Or consider the U.S. Global World Precious Minerals fund, which also has an expense ratio of about 1 percent and a minimum initial investment half that of the Vanguard fund. It didn't do as well as many other commodities funds last year because of a focus on small exploration and development stocks, but its three- and five-year returns remain stellar. Find more information at their websites: vanguard.com and usfunds.com.

If inflation hedging is a big concern for you, though, commodities aren't your only option. The government's TIPS program, for instance, can do the job just as well. The inflation-indexed bonds are simple and easy to buy, and they'll give you the hedge you want without the volatility of precious metals. Then you can let go of your hat and settle in for a long, comfortable investment ride.

For more information on TIPS and to learn how they're helping entrepreneurs protect their investments, see "Tipping Point" in this month's issue.