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The Permanent Portfolio Proves to Be a Valid Strategy

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- At the depths of the financial crisis, many investors wanted to forsake equity markets forever in favor of alternatives that would hopefully deliver smoother returns and minimize the fear that was so pervasive back then.

One strategy that got a lot of attention, in both traditional media and the blogosphere, was the so-called permanent portfolio -- a concept attributed to Harry Browne in the 1980s whereby investors put equal 25% portions into equities via a broad domestic index fund, gold, long-dated U.S. treasury bonds and cash. The big idea, as Browne saw it, is that there will always be at least one of the four that's doing well, which should smooth out the more volatile times like what the markets endured in 2008.

The Permanent Portfolio Fund (PRPFX) is an actively managed fund that stays reasonably true to the Browne concept and has a 30-year track record. Morningstar reports that as of July 31, PRPFX had 13.5% in cash, 32% in equities, 27% in bonds and 26% in precious metals -- most of which was gold. Very little of the bond allocation is actually in long-dated bonds, which is a byproduct of the active management and could spare the fund some performance drag, if interest rates continue to rise.

Over the last 10 years, PRPFX has performed exactly as one could have hoped for, rising 130%, which is more than the S&P 500's 97%, and turned in those gains with much less volatility. As the S&P 500 bottomed out in March 2009 with a 56% decline from its October 2007 peak, PRPFX only went down 23% from its peak.

Perhaps wanting to capitalize on PRPFX's success, the Global X Permanent ETF (PERM) brought the Browne concept to the market in the exchange-traded fund wrapper a year-and-a-half ago. PERM allocates 25% to long-dated U.S. treasury bonds, while the precious metals allocation includes a little bit of silver and uses short-dated U.S. treasuries as a proxy for cash, but it seeks out a more diversified approach with the equity exposure. Eight percent of the fund is in U.S. large-cap stocks, a similar 8% in materials stocks with smaller weightings to real estate equities, U.S. small caps, foreign stocks and natural-resource companies.

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