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The Man With the Golden Portfolio

Paul, Others Bank on Precious Metals

As the Wall Street bailout bill went down to defeat and the stock market nosedived on Monday, it must have been good to be Rep. Ron Paul.

The Texas Congressman and former Republican presidential candidate is heavily invested in gold mines and other precious metals, which rose nicely as the price of gold crested around $900 per ounce — about $200 higher than it was a year ago.

Gold is an important concept in Paul’s political theory: He has argued forcefully against the U.S. government’s monetary policies on the grounds that printing more money devalues the dollar. Gold, on the other hand, remains an undilutable currency. There is only so much of it.

Paul has previously introduced legislation to eliminate paper “legal tender” money and return to “constitutional money” — generally considered gold and silver.

And Paul apparently puts his money where his mouth is. According to his most recent financial disclosure form, at the end of last year Paul held more than $1 million in various gold mining and other precious metal stocks.

Over the past few weeks, these stocks have risen dramatically. For instance, Goldcorp Inc., a Canadian mining company, was trading as low as $25 on Sept. 10 but as high as $34 on Monday. Paul reported that he held $500,000 to $1 million in Goldcorp stock last year.

Gold mining stock, like the price of gold itself, is fairly volatile. In July, Goldcorp stock was as high as $47 per share. But the stock has more than doubled in value since 2005, and in years prior, it traded at less than $15 per share. Paul has reported owning the stock each year since he came to Congress in 1996.

Rachel Mills, a spokeswoman for Paul, said that “the positive thing about gold is it’s a store of wealth and it retains its purchasing power over time.” Mills said that she could not speak for the Congressman about his investments but that she was speaking for “those who invest in gold under his philosophy.”

While Paul’s portfolio stands out for its almost exclusive reliance on gold and precious metals, he is not the only Member with money in the gold markets, and a fondness for fine metals appears to cross party lines.

Several Members — including Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) — are invested in Barrick Gold Corp., a major gold-mining operation. Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) reported holding $15,000 to $50,000 worth of Evergreen Precious Metals.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) reported owning $15,000 to $50,000 worth of StreetTracks, a gold fund that buys and sells bullion. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) reported owning $1,000 to $15,000 worth of the same fund, which was trading Tuesday at about $85, the same price it fetched at the beginning of the year, after reaching as high as $100 in March and as low as $73 earlier this month.

Sam Sudame, chief investment officer of the Schultz Financial Group Inc. in Reno, Nev., said “if there is a lot of fear in the markets, the price of gold will go up because it is a flight to safety.”

Sudame pointed out that owning stock in gold-mining companies is not as safe as gold because mining faces the same economic challenges as the rest of the economy, such as rising fuel prices and high labor costs. These stocks will generally rise with the price of gold, Sudame said, but “as a pure risk avoidance strategy, the bullion is better because the bullion will be sitting in a vault somewhere.”

Jeff Broadhurst, of Broadhurst Financial Advisors Inc. near Philadelphia, said, “I do not invest in or recommend commodities [such as gold] because the expected return for a commodity is zero.” That is, a block of gold will remain a block of gold, and its value will go up and down with supply and demand, but it won’t create more gold, whereas an investment in a company allows the company to produce more value from the dollars that were invested.

Of course, all metals are not created equal, so while gold has risen briskly over the past few weeks, other metals have not fared as well in the face of the economic slowdown.

So pity poor Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who reported holding $100,000 to $250,000 worth of stock in Commercial Metals Co. at the end of December, a stock that was selling for about $29 at the time. By Tuesday, stock in the steel manufacturing and recycling company was trading at about $18 per share, meaning Lieberman’s investment has lost more than $35,000 in value — assuming he hasn’t sold it since December.

Of course, for the faint of heart, there are still the more traditional investment strategies. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) reported that her husband held $50,000 to $100,000 worth of “precious metals/coins,” Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) reported a coin collection worth $1,000 to $15,000, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) reported a stamp collection worth about $100,000.

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