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The new global gold rush

Gold has long been considered a pretty old school investment: not very profitable and mostly for the maverick investor. But recently, investors all over the world have taken a new shine to gold.
Paul Katz
/
Getty Images
Gold has long been considered a pretty old school investment: not very profitable and mostly for the maverick investor. But recently, investors all over the world have taken a new shine to gold.

2022 was a rough year for investors: Between inflation, falling stock prices, and the crypto crash, it was hard to find a safe haven.

All of that economic turmoil had a lot of investors looking at one of the most ancient places to store wealth: gold.
For decades, investing in gold has been seen as a very old school investment, for the maverick, perhaps slightly anti-establishment investor.

But last year, it seemed everyone wanted in. Global demand for gold jumped nearly 20% to a decade high.

The New Gold Investor

One of those buyers was Julia Grugen, 20, a finance major at Temple University. A few months ago, she made one of her first big investments ever. In gold.

"I went in to the coin store and it was all men," she recalls with a laugh. Grugan quickly realized she was not the typical gold customer. "I was a little timid and I had barrettes in my hair."

But Grugan was determined. She had been studying economics and finance and she wasn't interested in the investments her friends were excited about, like NFTs and cryptocurrency.

"I am that old school girl," she says. "And for gold specifically, I definitely think of it as a value store more than an investment."

Investors all over the world have been looking for a value store: a safe haven from inflation, geopolitical problems and other things that can erode the value of a country's money.

So, barrettes and all, Grugan marched up to the counter at the coin store and placed her order "I said, 'I want a 10 gram bar.'" The 10 grams of gold cost around $625.

There's Gold in Them Thar Portfolios

Millions of Americans have been doing the same. Stefan Gleason is the president of Money Metals Exchange, one of the largest gold and silver dealers in the country. Gleason says ever since prices started rising in early lockdown, his business has through the roof.

"We've seen five to ten times more order volume," he says. Right now, his team works six days a week, packing up and shipping out around 2,000 boxes of gold bars, silver bars, and coins every day.

Gleason says customers tell him the last few years have shaken their faith in the US dollar, stocks and cryptocurency. But they trust gold.

Sound Money

After all, gold is one of the oldest investments out there. A lot of our language around money comes from gold. Like sound money, which refers to an ancient practice people used to test the purity of gold.

Of course these days, Money Metals Exchange uses high tech equipment to test the purity of their gold.

And there's a lot of be tested. The company is expanding quickly: building a 40,000 square foot headquarters in Eagle, Idaho.

Mike Gleason, Director of Money Metal Exchange, stands at the site of what will be the company's new headquarters: A 40,000 square foot facility in Eagle, Idaho.
/ Stacey Vanek Smith
/
Stacey Vanek Smith
Mike Gleason, Director of Money Metal Exchange, stands at the site of what will be the company's new headquarters: A 40,000 square foot facility in Eagle, Idaho.


Mike Gleason, Stefan's brother, is the director of Money Metals Exchange. He is overseeing the construction. "Right now, we're leveling the ground underneath the vaults," he explains. "We're really building for the future here."

Countries Are Buying Up Gold

The Gleasons are betting the future is golden. After all, countries like Turkey, China, Russia and Poland are reportedly buying up huge amounts of gold. They're also worried about inflation and geopolitical conflict.
Gold doesn't have a great track record as an investment: Gold right now is worth roughly the same price it was 12 years ago. Almost any decent stock would have been a more profitable bet.

But that hasn't deterred true believers like 20-year-old Julia Grugan. She did get her gold in the end: a little bar about the size of a postage stamp. She likes to take it out and just look at it sometimes.

Gold has a lot of cultural weight

"There's so much cultural weight that comes with gold," she says. "You feel, you feel a little bougie, you feel special."

Grugan says her grandfather, a schoolteacher, invested in stocks and gold and was able to retire very comfortably. In fact, one of the first things she did after she got her gold piece was text her grandma:

"I said, 'Please tell Poppy that I just bought my first 10 grams of gold.' And she said, 'Poppy says, 'WOW. Awesome.'"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.