Americans think gold beats stocks as a long-term investment

Carla Gottgens | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Americans are upbeat on gold and have soured on stocks — perhaps to their detriment.

Twenty-six percent of Americans ranked gold as the best long-term investment in 2023, almost double the 15% who thought so in 2022, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The share surpassed that of stocks: 18% of Americans ranked stocks as the top long-term holding, down from 24% last year, according to the survey.

It was the first time since 2013 that their perception of stocks was below that of gold. Both ranked behind real estate.

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While Americans were asked to gauge sentiment about the long term, public perception is guided more by short-term swings in investment performance, said Gallup, which polled a random sample of 1,013 adults between April 3 and 25.

And that recency bias can be dangerous for investors saving for a goal like retirement, which may be decades away.

“As a long-term investment, [gold] is a very poor solution,” said Charlie Fitzgerald, a certified financial planner and principal of Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo in Orlando, Florida.

“It’s more like a speculation,” he added.

Stocks beat gold over the long term

Stocks generally serve as the long-term growth engine of an investment portfolio, financial advisors said.

The S&P 500 Index of stocks had a 10.43% average annual total return between 1970 and 2022, according to an analysis by Securian Asset Management. Gold had a 7.7% return over the same period. (After the U.S. gold standard ended in 1971, the price of gold was no longer fixed, making the early 1970s a good starting point for a price comparison.) 

The price of gold, which is often viewed as a safe haven, typically jumps during times of fear and economic malaise. For example, gold prices surged to multiyear highs in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and spiked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD) — an exchange-traded fund that tracks gold prices — is up 8.6% so far in 2023. The S&P 500 is up 7.6%.

Investors’ enthusiasm for gold comes amid recent turmoil in the banking sector and as the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates aggressively since early last year, to put a lid on high inflation. The Fed, the U.S. central bank, expects the country to tip into a mild recession later this year.

Meanwhile, 2022 was Wall Street’s worst showing since 2008, as the S&P 500 fell by more than 19%. U.S. bonds had their worst year in history.

A debt-ceiling standoff means the U.S. is also staring down the possibility of not being able to pay its bills within weeks — which would be a first in the nation’s history and likely to trigger economic chaos.

“Gold is doing well now because of the current economic condition,” said Ivory Johnson, a CFP and founder of Delancey Wealth Management, based in Washington.

Johnson, a member of CNBC’s Advisor Council, has been recommending more gold to clients over the past year or so.

However, it’s more of a short-term holding — a hedge for investors when gross domestic product (a measure of U.S. economic output) and inflation are both decelerating, as they are right now, Johnson said. If GDP starts to rebound, he’d generally recommend dumping gold and instead buying growth stocks.

“Gold is not a long-term investment,” Johnson said. “It’s not something you just put in the portfolio and keep it there.”

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