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Buy gold for IRA?

Question: Hi Chris, I am seeking advice as to what I should do with my IRA fund. I have a portfolio of various mutual funds that used to be worth $ 17,000 now is about $ 13,000. I have lost plenty from the latest stock market crashes. Since it might be a long while till the bull market reappears, do you think I should keep things as they are or should I cash out or are there other options?

I realize I will take quite a hit if I cash out so what other alternatives do I have that could spare further losses in the market. I have been thinking of buying gold certificates with some of the money I have in my IRA, would this be a wise move? Theresa, Manchester

Answer: Last night at NET in Nebraska I participated in a statewide public radio and public television call-in show. In essence, the topic was the global financial crisis and you. The questions were terrific and it was a good show. You can listen to it at NET Nebraska.

Gold came up several times during the conversation in Nebraska. It's a traditional safe haven, and the price of gold has jumped to over $900 an ounce in the commodity futures market. Is gold a place to seek shelter from the financial storm?

I'm a skeptic. The precious metal has been doing well during the financial crisis. It could do a lot better, too. My problem with buying gold now is that it's a pure speculation on price appreciation--a bet that you will be able to sell it at some point in the future at a higher price than you bought it. But the metal is volatile. Again, it's a speculation. Put it this way: Gold doesn't pay dividends. It doesn't create cash flow. It fluctuates on speculation. It isn't a good investment for an IRA.

If you want to own gold I would do so outside the IRA. The are some exchange traded funds (ETFs) that offer a cost-effective option for the individual investor. There are also some mutual fund options.

The counterpoint to my perspective on gold comes from mutual fund maestro Jean-Marie Eveillard. He had a terrific long-term record running the First Eagle Global Fund for more than a quarter century. Like many wealthy Europeans, he always had a small percentage of the mutual fund equity portfolio invested in gold. He treated it as an insurance policy. When the equity markets went down, the price of gold would go up, cushioning the impact on the portfolios value.

Still, I prefer Treasury bills and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. These are investments that preserve capital and make you some money. No one will get rich with these securities, but the value of a dollar will be preserved. TIPS are a more cost effective insurance policy.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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