How To Invest In Gold ETFs- Exchange Traded Funds

Dr. Stephen Leeb, PhDInvesting INTEL News

How To Invest In Gold ETFs Exchange Traded Funds φ Leeb Capital Management

Gold ETFs Investment Advantages

The Notable Advantages and Disadvantages of Investing In Gold ETFs

A Gold ETF – exchange-traded fund – is not the same as investing in physical gold.

Gold ETFs can be viewed as a hybrid investment that combines paper shares of gold with an ownership stake in bullion, albeit at one remove. That’s because the ETF holds gold as its underlying asset, and as a shareholder in the ETF, you own a share of that gold.

For many investors, buying shares in a gold ETF will be the path of least resistance and the easiest way to profit from gold’s rise. ETFs have a lot of advantages. They trade like stocks, making them easy to buy and sell. Commissions are low. You don’t need to hassle with storage and insurance.

The most actively traded gold ETFs in the U.S. are SPDR Gold Shares, which trades under the symbol GLD, and iShares Gold Trust, with the symbol IAU. GLD is more extensive and has a slightly higher expense ratio – 0.4 percent compared to 0.25 percent for IAU. The lower expense ratio does translate into marginally better returns for IAU. On the other hand, GLD’s larger size might help it better survive any crisis – misconduct, fraud, theft – justifying the higher expense ratio. 

Gold ETFs Notable Disadvantages

A gold ETF is a reasonable way to invest in the metal and participate in its gains. But again, it doesn’t have the same level of barricade-the-doors certainty as physical gold. If anything did go wrong with an ETF you’ve invested in, you’d likely be out of luck. As a shareholder, your right to the company’s assets, i.e., its gold holdings, would come after other creditors. It’s not something overly common. However, it’s never good to unthinkingly walk into investments. 

And again, the chance that something could go wrong with an ETF, though a black swan, is still something that could happen. Moreover, if an ETF did bite the dust, it could result in a massive, economy-wide liquidity crisis. Since one reason to invest in gold is to protect yourself against major adverse events, that would be galling.

How To Invest In Gold ETFs Exchange Traded Funds φ Leeb Capital Management

Beware of Investing on Margin

One aspect of ETFs that might intrigue some investors is that they can be purchased on margin, leveraging their bet on gold. With margin, you can invest as little as 50 percent of the ETF’s value and double your gains if gold goes up. Of course, if gold goes down, you’ll double your losses. In any case, you’ll pay margin interest.

Although I believe gold is headed higher, I don’t recommend buying it on margin, which is a strategy best left to professional traders. I think it pays to listen to Warren Buffett in this situation. I once heard Warren Buffett advise investors not to buy his stock, Berkshire Hathaway, on margin. Despite Berkshire’s extraordinary past success and Buffett’s confidence in the company’s long-term prospects, he knew there were times when Berkshire declined as much as 50 percent from a previous high.

You probably would have lost your entire investment if you had owned Berkshire on margin during one of those declines. Then, some brokerage houses insist that investors, for safety reasons, continue to add to their investment as the stock drops.

Even more galling, you might have been wiped out when you could have jumped on a great buying opportunity. One of the declines came toward the end of the wild early 1999-early 2000 bull market in tech stocks. In the wake of that crash, Berkshire soared.

The second 50% decline in Berkshire occurred during the 2008-09 bear market. Again, a fully margined investor would have lost out on a significant comeback.

Ironically, given gold’s reputation for volatility, in the past 20 years, there have been no instances of gold ever declining as much as 50% from its high. Moreover, if you trace gold’s record from the first 50 percent decline in Berkshire, you’ll find that gold outperformed Berkshire by about 80 percentage points.

But I still wouldn’t consider that a green light to buy gold on margin. I believe gold is headed dramatically higher because of a seismic shift in the world’s financial underpinnings. I don’t expect this to collapse financial institutions, including those offering ETFs, significantly. Likewise, I don’t see any reason to take unnecessary chances when you can make so much money in gold just by playing it safe.

A Gold Investment to Shun

That brings me to another vehicle for investing in gold: ETNs or exchange-traded notes. On the surface, they might seem appealing. But I would stay away from them.

While ETFs invest in bullion, ETNs create “paper” gold by positioning investments in futures or other trading vehicles so that they faithfully follow the price of physical gold. They might seem tempting because they offer the chance to double or triple your gains (and, of course, your losses). However, as an investment based on derivatives, there is always the risk that something will go wrong even if the underlying financial instrument – in this case, gold – performs as expected. With ETNs, there’s the added problem that when gold is volatile, it can misfire badly.

A case in point is the DB Gold double-long ETN with the symbol DGP. Its stated aim is to double the gains in gold. However, between June 30, 2013, and early October 2019, when gold ETFs rose more than 19 percent, the ETN rose only slightly over 13 percent. Only when gold began to decline did it’s doubling power kick in – it doubled gold’s drop. Don’t go near ETNs.

In summary, it will all serve you well if you are inclined to allocate part of your assets to physical gold, coins, bars with the proper certifications, and ETFs. And there’s nothing wrong with having some of each.

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