ETF Entrance Into Gold Rush Proves Rewarding But Volatile
There are a lot of reasons to invest in gold, but to ride the extraordinary, multi-year rally underway you don't need to go out and buy some coins or bullion and put it in your bank's safe deposit box.
“We are still arguing that people should add gold to their portfolios as part of a diversification strategy,” says Katherine Klingensmith, a strategist for UBS Wealth Management Research. “There’s still quite a bit of concern about the structural integrity of the financial markets, so there are still plenty of folks looking for hedges against continued weakness in the global growth story.”
Truth is, gold coins or bullion are generally unaffordable to all but the most affluent investors, leaving interested average investors mutual funds and exchange traded funds .
And there’s no shortage from which to choose. Some 22 mutual funds and 21 ETFs focus all or most of their investment holdings on gold.
But their investment strategies differ greatly. As such, they haven’t all been buoyed by the modern day gold rush.
Most gold mutual funds, for example, are equity-based, investing primarily in companies engaged in the mining, production, processing and distribution of gold.
Thus, they track a stock index like the Dow Jones Platinum & Precious Metals Index, not the price of gold.
Due to increased labor and energy costs, however, such funds have generally fared worse in recent years than their counterparts that invest directly in gold bullion – the commodity itself.
To wit, the FTSE Gold Mines Index, which tracks the performance of all major gold mining companies worldwide, is down more than 6 percent for the first seven months of the year, despite the runup in spot gold prices.
Gold equity-based mutual funds that diversified into physical gold or other precious metals, however, have outperformed relative to their peers.
Vanguard Precious Metals and Mining Fund, for example, a Morningstar analyst pick, is invested in a variety of companies engaged in the exploration, mining, fabrication and processing of precious metals and diamonds. It also invests in energy companies.
The equity fund is up an impressive 33 percent over the last 12 months, and more than 8 percent over the last five.
First Eagle Gold Fund, another Morningstar pick, is also up nearly 29 percent since this time last year and 15 percent over the last five, buoyed by its stabilizing 15 percent stake in physical gold.
Likewise,Gamco Gold Fund is up nearly 23 percent since 2001, a year before the gold bull market began.
Most gold ETFs, meanwhile, invest in the commodity itself — physical bullion — with a mission to mirror the performance of spot gold prices, net an “extremely marginal” management fee, says Abraham Bailin, an ETF analyst with Chicago-based fund tracker Morningstar.
SPDR Gold Trust, the most popular gold ETF, for example, is physically backed by gold and moves in lockstep with market prices.
Between October 2008 and July 2011, the London spot fix gold price returned 111.4 percent, with the SPDR Gold Shares fund up virtually the same amount at 110 percent.
iShares Comex Gold Trust, its less pricey competitor that trades for $16 per share compared with the SPDR Gold Trust's $160 per share, also invests in physical gold.
“The tracking [of spot gold prices] has been great on both of them,” says Bailin.