The introduction of the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) in 2004 forever changed the world of gold investing. The physically-backed ETF cracked the precious metals world wide open, as it now became possible for the average Joe to add gold exposure to their basket of holdings. Since debuting, GLD has amassed nearly $75 billion in total assets and is by far the most popular commodity ETF in the world. But for all of the attention this juggernaut attracts, investors often forget to look for alternative ways to gain the same exposure, especially given the controversy surrounding this product [for more gold news and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter].
Below, we outline five ETF alternatives for anyone looking to make a play on this precious metal without using GLD.
- iShares COMEX Gold Trust (IAU): This physically-backed ETF makes for an enticing alternative to GLD for two big reasons. The first, IAU comes in at 15 basis points cheaper than its larger competitor, meaning that investors will pay less, and IAU will generally outperform by a slight margin. Second, IAU features 100% allocated gold, meaning that if there was ever a dispute between the trust and the custodian of the fund, investors would not be subject to any losses (something GLD cannot say). Investors may also want to take a look at AGOL and SGOL, two physically-backed products that store their gold in Singapore and Switzerland respectively.
- Market Vectors TR Gold Miners Fund (GDX): This product takes a different approach to gold exposure, as it invests in the companies that mine the metal. As such, GDX will usually be a more volatile play on the metal given the high betas that mining firms often exhibit. The fund holds about 85% of its assets abroad, with Canada accounting for the largest single country allocation. GDX is just shy of $10 billion in assets under management and trades more than 12 million times per day compared to GLD’s average volume of 8.7 million [see also Get Ready For the Gold Bull Run].
- DB Gold Fund (DGL): For those who prefer futures-based exposure, DGL is the most popular ETF out there. This product invests in front-month gold futures and has over $460 million in assets. Note that the front-month roll of DGL make it a liability if futures are contangoed, as the fund will be forced to sell low and buy high each month. Investors should also be aware that DGL will issue a K-1 each year, which can be a headache come tax season.
- Gold Trendpilot ETN (TBAR): One of the most unique funds on the market, TBAR takes gold investing in a different direction. TBAR invests in gold bullion when the price of gold closes above its 200-day simple moving average for at least five consecutive sessions. Meanwhile, when gold is below that threshold for five consecutive sessions, TBAR’s underlying index switches exposure to 3-month Treasury bills. TBAR also features a unique expense structure; when the index is invested in gold–as it is currently–expenses will be set at 1.0%. When the benchmark is invested in cash, however, expenses are cut in half to 0.50%. This one-of-a-kind methodology has returned just over 7% in 2012, although it should be noted that the fund comes with a price tag of 100 basis points [see also Inside Ron Paul’s Gold and Silver Portfolio].
- E-TRACS S&P 500 Gold Hedged ETN (SPGH): SPGH’s underlying index will measure the performance of an investment strategy that is long the S&P 500 with a hedge against fluctuations of the dollar relative to gold prices. The index does this by hedging beginning-of-period S&P 500 Total Return Index values with COMEX gold futures contracts. The Gold Hedged Index will outperform an unhedged S&P 500 when gold prices appreciate relative to the dollar, and underperform when gold depreciates. The strategy has returned nearly 25% year-to-date as this young fund is proving its worth.
Disclosure: Long IAU.