The gold rush is back — and now at a big-box store near you

Warehouse stores in Canada aren’t just selling large quantities of toilet paper these days — gold bars and coins and other precious metals are moving out of the realm of banking and jewellers and into their aisles.

With gold hitting record-high prices in recent weeks, the metal’s popularity has been reflected at retailers, too.

According to Costco’s chief financial officer, Richard Galanti, the company “sold over $100 million [US] of gold” during a recent 12-week period. Walmart has also started selling gold, silver and platinum bars online to U.S. consumers.

Costco didn’t respond to requests for comment from CBC News, but officials had previously told investors their gold bars would sell out within hours of being listed online.

Cultural and financial value 

Richmond Hill, Ont., resident Erfan Hashempour has invested in gold and silver over the past few years by purchasing coins, because they are easier to handle and to acquire through the Royal Canadian Mint. He was surprised to see gold bars and gold coins available at his local Costco warehouse.

“Anything else, yeah, you’d expect to see it in Costco, but not really gold,” he said.

Erfan Hashempour says he invests in gold for both cultural and financial reasons. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

For investors like Hashempour, gold is both a cultural and a financial investment.

“Originally, I’m from Iran. And in our culture, gold has always had significance,” explained Hashempour.

He’s been investing in specific precious metals to diversify his financial and investment portfolio. It’s also a way to address concerns that currencies and other stock-type investments might be less stable in the long term.

“I’ve always gotten this advice from my parents and from family members, to invest in precious metals such as gold and silver because it’s not something that depreciates [like] Iranian money over the past 40 years,” he said.

A ‘hedge’ against instability

That’s a common motivation for those investing in gold, according to precious metals dealer Jonathan Rose — they are nervous about how traditional currencies or stocks are performing, and gold has a proven track record as a stable investment.

“People who are looking for a hedge look at precious metals,” said Rose, who is with Genesis Gold Group in Beverly Hills, Calif.

WATCH | Why gold bars are all that glitters for retailers like Costco:

Why Costco is now selling gold

Gold has long been seen as a stable investment, and at a time of global uncertainty, it’s becoming so popular that big box stores such as Costco have jumped on the bandwagon.

He adds that other factors, such as the volatility of newer cryptocurrencies and the fluctuating value of the U.S. dollar, drive people to what he calls “tangible” wealth — physical assets such as gold or silver.

“Any time there’s geopolitical, international instability, people are looking for a safe haven or a flight to safety and security,” he told CBC News.

To be quite honest, [gold investors] believe that the world’s probably going to go to hell in a handbasket.– David Wagner, Aptus Capital Advisors

However, portfolio manager David Wagner says gold does not always hedge against financial phenomena such as inflation, and that gold investors are sometimes acting out of fear.

“They’re trying to own gold if they believe that there’s going to be some type of debasement of the U.S. currency,” said Wagner, who is with Aptus Capital Advisors in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

“To be quite honest, they believe that the world’s probably going to go to hell in a handbasket.”

Gold literally feels trustworthy to some

Wagner’s perspective is that many gold investors put more trust in an investment they can see, feel and hold in their hands. But he also says this may give them a flawed sense of security for the same reason: physical investments can be lost or stolen.

“[If] someone comes to your house and tries to rob you, you can tell them, ‘I’m safe, I own gold,'” he told CBC News.

“What are they going to probably do? They’re probably going to rob you and take your gold.”

That sort of concern doesn’t do much to move gold investors like Hashempour. 

“I feel like gold is a safe bet for investment … whereas with stocks, things could go sideways for companies that you buy stocks from,” he pointed out.

But he said he does hold many typical stock and currency investments, and isn’t keeping all of his eggs — golden or not — in one basket.

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