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Can gold really protect your ASX share portfolio?

Can gold really protect a portfolio of ASX shares?

There used to be many different asset classes you could use to protect an ASX share portfolio. Cash was always a favourite – as evidenced by the old phrase ‘cash is king’. But fixed-interest instruments like government bonds were another alternative. These assets even had the potential to increase in value during a share market crash or a recession if the government decided to cut interest rates.

Unfortunately, today we live in a whole new world.

Since interest rates are now effectively zero (or 0.25% to be completely accurate), cash is no longer the ‘safe place’ to store wealth for more than a few months. Even if you manage to snag an interest rate on a term deposit or savings account of 1.5% (rare these days), your money is still losing value to inflation.

Government bonds are even worse today. Right now, the yield you can expect from a 10-year Treasury bond is sitting at 0.87% per annum. And these government bonds will only meaningfully rise further in value if interest rates go negative, which probably won’t happen anytime soon.

So where does that leave us if we want to protect our portfolios from any future market crashes? The only real answer that comes to mind is gold.

Gold has always been viewed as a ‘safe haven’ asset and as a powerful vessel for wealth preservation. But is the yellow metal still relevant as a ‘guardian angel’ of an ASX portfolio? Let’s look at some numbers.

A golden protector?

Let’s take a look at how the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) performed during the most recent market crash.

So from the peak (20 February) to the trough (23 March), the ASX 200 fell approximately 36.5%.

Over the same period the price of gold went from around US$1,611 an ounce to US$1,500 – hardly a protective cloak for a share portfolio.

But let’s also look at gold priced in Australia dollars. So on 20 February, an ounce of gold would have cost an Australian investor around $2,422. On 23 March, this same ounce would have set the investor back roughly $2,600 – giving a nice 7.35% return over the month.

Not quite enough to offset the losses from the share market, but better than a poke in the eye, that’s for sure.

Should we use gold as portfolio protection?

As we have seen, gold can provide some protection in an ASX portfolio, but it is by no means a perfect mechanism. I think investing in gold isn’t really worth doing if portfolio protection is your only goal. If you’re truly a long-term investor, having some short-term cash on the sides is probably a better protection mechanism.

There are other reasons why gold can be useful. Protecting against currency debasement and inflation is one, having a physical and incorruptible store of wealth is another.

But if you really want to build wealth instead of storing it, ASX shares are a far better bet in my view!

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Motley Fool contributor Sebastian Bowen has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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