Some 'safe havens' may not really be all that safe

Gold ISN'T the safe haven you thought it was
Euro, yen rally as risk aversion intensifies
Euro: a safe haven currency?

Another day, more market chaos. What's a safety-conscious investor to do?

As of Tuesday's close, major U.S. averages—the Dow Jones industrial average, and Nasdaq—had all shed roughly 10 percent over the last five sessions. The indexes traded higher across the board Wednesday morning but then cut those gains in half.

Amid confusion, investors dug for assets to help them brush off rocky trading. But based on recent performance, some of those stability picks may prove safer than others.


Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
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Gold prices often rise with fear in stock markets as a relatively predictable store of value. But its reputation as an asset to ride out short-term confusion is dubious, at best.

Gold fell on Monday even as the major averages lost more than 3.5 percent in erratic trading, as many large volume traders and hedge funds needed cash. It moved lower both Tuesday and Wednesday, and will likely continue to face pressure amid commodity-led deflationary pressure, said George Gero, a precious metals strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

Read MoreLooking for a safe haven? Here's why gold won't work

"It's not a temporary safe-haven asset," he said. "Longer term, gold really should be an asset against inflation. The lack of inflation has put pressure on gold for quite some time now."

Data for the last decade also show minimal upside for the metal amid spurts of market volatility. Since 2005, whenever the S&P has lost 6 percent or more in a week, gold has gone down 61 percent of the time, according to data analytics platform Kensho.

When the Dow has shed at least 6 percent over that span, the metal has also lost ground 73 percent of the time.


If the euro is not considered a classic safe haven asset, it certainly has acted like one recently. The single currency has climbed nearly 3 percent against the dollar over the last five days.

"I don't think anyone really expected this with the euro and dollar here," said David Song, a currency analyst for DailyFX.

Still, it lost more than 1 percent against the greenback on Wednesday amid the jump in U.S. stocks. The euro has taken on safe-haven characteristics as it has become an outlet for carry trades, experts told CNBC.

Read MoreIs the euro the new safe haven?

"It has evolved into a safe-haven currency. It is a carry-funding currency so that during bouts of risk aversion, investors tend to unwind euro shorts, supporting the euro," Valentin Marinov, head of G10 FX research at Credit Agricole, said in a CNBC interview earlier this month.

Generally, observers often expect the U.S. dollar to hold up amid stock market uncertainty and buying of U.S. Treasury notes, Ray Attrill, co-head of FX strategy at National Bank Australia, told CNBC this week. Earlier this year, amid stimulus from the European Central Bank and expectations for a interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve, markets broadly positioned themselves short euro and long dollar.

Read MorePeter Schiff: The market's 'pipe dream' is ending

But now expectations that the Fed will raise interest rates in September have fallen, giving the dollar less support. Additionally, a temporary resolution to Greece's debt saga has provided more stability to the euro, contributing to its rise in a risk-averse environment.

"Ultimately, you would think that safe-haven flows would still bring the dollar stronger, even if we are seeing that unwind in Fed rate hike expectations," Attrill said.

Moving forward, the ECB could try to stem the euro's rise, as its relative weakness earlier this year helped exports, added Song. He noted that the dollar's strength would depend not only on when the Fed raises rates, but also how quickly its next move comes.

—CNBC's Deirdre Bosa contributed to this report.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal, parent of CNBC, is a minority investor in Kensho.