Two days after the 2012 election, gold seller Doug Eberhardt told readers that his site was experiencing a traffic surge. "I noticed quite a few hits on my site for the search term 'Glenn Beck and gold' this morning," he wrote, "which means Glenn Beck is using the fear of what an Obama election can bring to America in getting investors to buy gold." Eberhart didn't disagree—he only wanted investors to buy gold safely, not to be scammed.
Yet anyone who bought gold, silver, or oil after Obama's re-election must feel, today, like the victim of a mugging. Talk radio and clicky web ads have been flogging those commodities for years, upping their efforts since the 2008 financial crisis and the president's first term. The theory was simple: An artificially inflated American currency was going to fail some day, while gold would retain its value.
"If you keep printing a lot of paper money," explained former Representative Ron Paul this summer, "the value of that dollar and currency will go down, and things and most prices will go up and indeed gold always goes up against that currency.”
That's asking a lot of the long-term investor. Gold reached an all time high price of $1911 per ounce on August 23, 2011, during the debt limit crisis. By election day 2012, gold had fallen to $1777 per ounce. That amount of gold sells, today, for just $1178.
The picture's even worse for silver buyers—and worse still for the people who snapped up oil futures. Silver peaked at $48.70 per ounce on April 28, 2011. By Obama's re-election it had plunged to $31. Today, an ounce of silver costs $15.7. A barrel of oil, which sold for $97 in November 2012, now sells for $59.
Anyone who invested in an index of stocks is doing far, far better than anyone who snapped up commodities and locked the bunker door. Since election day 2012, the S&P has risen from 1,428.39 to 2084. Let's say you sold all your gold at the August 2011 high and put it in the S&P 500 until election day. You would have turned that 7 percent loss on gold into a 20.5 percent gain. With silver that 40% loss would have turned into a 5 percent gain.
If precious metals don't seem like a bad idea yet, consider this. If you dropped a $10,000 bet on gold election day, you'd be left with $6,629 this Christmas. The same wager in silver would leave you with just $5,064. A $10,000 investment in the S&P 500 on November 6, 2012 on the other hand would leave you with $14,593 today.
In the scheme of lifetime earnings and retirement, $10,000 can be a rounding error. So, let's say you took some bad advice to the extreme, cashed out and did the full Ron Paul with your future livelihood. Right as Americans were heading to the ballot boxes, their 401(k) accounts were reaching a new average all-time high of $75,900. Let's say you—average American—cash out, unleash your gold bug and plow it all into bullion. If your broker is still taking your calls, she'd tell you that your nest egg has deflated by a third to $50,315. Thought you'd be slick and invest in silver, congrats, you've lost $25,000. Bought into peak oil? That cost you 40 percent of your retirement savings.
Nevertheless, some people hard-earned credibility are still flogging gold. And it's not as if the gold bugs were the only people who over-interpreted a couple of election results or news stories and thought traditional investments might collapse.