5 of the best gold ETFs
Buying physical gold can be tricky, but as investors search for safe-haven assets, gold ETFs offer an accessible way to protect portfolios
Gold is back in vogue amongst investors - and for good reason.
Investing in the precious metal has long been seen as a proactive hedge against inflation and economic uncertainty.
The fall of Silicon Valley Bank, alongside other financial institutions, kickstarted a series of events that has led many investors to consider how well their portfolios are protected against risks within the banking sector.
Upwards movements in the price of gold indicate that investors, concerned by the events across the Atlantic and in Europe, are seeking the protection of safe haven assets as they try to protect themselves from the fallout.
The Pure Gold Company CEO Josh Saul says: “Investors are already concerned about the economic outlook in the face of a continued cost-of-living crisis, inflation, recession fears, and the unrelenting geo-political situation. A bank collapse may just be the tipping point for some investors looking for a safe haven in the storm.”
These factors have pushed gold prices higher, according to The Royal Mint, with demand for physical gold set to continue deeper into 2023.
As Dominic explained a little while ago, it’s important to understand the nuances of investing in gold in sterling terms as well as in US dollars, but the key principles remain the same - gold can help protect your portfolio returns.
As such, owning one or two of the best gold ETFs could help your portfolio returns in 2023, but its something we always recommend you hold – just 5%-10% as “insurance” for your portfolio.
Dzmitry Lipski, Head of Funds Research, interactive investor says, "The historic role of gold has been as a store of value during economic crisis. It is generally accepted that gold could also be used as an inflation hedge and, therefore, rising inflation is necessary for the cost of gold to increase, That's because gold is priced in US dollars, so when each dollar becomes less valuable it takes more of them to buy the same amount of gold.
"Conversely, low inflation and a strengthening US dollar should be seen as negative for gold prices," he adds.
So what’s the best way to invest in gold?
You could stock up on jewellery or buy gold bullion in the form of physical coins or bars. That will give you some nice shiny trinkets to hold and admire, but it comes with the expense and worry of storing them safely.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could buy shares in gold miners. But these often don’t track the price of gold very closely. Mining is a very cyclical business that regularly goes from boom to bust.
Josh Saul, CEO at The Pure Gold Company says, "ETFs are easy to invest in and very liquid but they are one half of a transaction with a bank or investment vehicle, so they come with counterparty risk. Meanwhile, mining stocks are intrinsically linked to the operations and profitability of the company rather just than the gold price."
"At a time when people are worried about the strength or integrity of counterparties, physical gold bullion reduces that risk because it sits outside the banking system. It can also have tax benefits (VAT and CGT free depending on individual circumstances) which add to its value as an investment," Saul adds.
The best gold ETFs: the simple way to invest in gold
An alternative is to invest in a gold exchange-traded fund (ETF). This is a fund that aims to track the price of gold.
The most straightforward gold ETFs are backed by physical gold – they buy gold bullion and store it in secure vaults. The most complicated use derivatives or options to “leverage” your investment and magnify gains. But they will also magnify losses, so be careful.
Leveraged ETFs also tend to have higher fees than those that are backed by physical gold. So, if you’re buying gold to provide security, you should stay away from leveraged funds. When investing in ETFs, simplicity is the key.
A word on European gold ETFs. The EU does not allow ETFs that track a single commodity. Instead, the funds that do this are called “exchange-traded commodities”. The difference between an ETF and an ETC is negligible, but ETFs backed by physical gold are ETCs, not ETFs.
As well as funds that track the price of gold, there are also funds that invest in gold mining stocks. But, as mentioned above, they do not track the price of gold very closely.
The beauty of physical gold ETFs is their simplicity and low cost. You can buy them from almost every broker and they can often be held in a Sipp or an Isa.
What are some of the best gold ETFs and ETCs?
One of the biggest issues with gold is its environmental footprint. It requires a lot of energy to dig up, refine and store gold. There are also issues around potential labour abuses in the supply chain.
The HANetf Royal Mint Responsibly Sourced Physical Gold (LSE: RMAP) tries to deal with these issues for investors. It only owns 100% post-2019 LBMA-approved gold bars. These are bars from refiners that "have been found, when originally tested, to meet the required standard for acceptability in the London bullion market."
The Mint is also building the world's first plant to recover gold from electronic waste, creating circular economy gold with a low environmental footprint. It is traded on the London Stock Exchange and charges just 0.25% per annum.
Wisdom Tree Physical Gold is a physically backed gold ETC that comes in two flavours. LSE:PHGP is denominated in sterling and is backed by physical allocated gold held by HSBC Bank. It has an ongoing charge of 0.39%. LSE:PHAU is essentially the same fund denominated in US dollars and carries the same ongoing charge of 0.39%.
If you’d rather have your gold stored in Switzerland, the WisdomTree Physical Swiss Gold ETC (LSE: SGBS) stores its gold in secure vaults in Zurich on behalf of JPMorgan Chase Bank. The ongoing charge is 0.15%.
The iShares Physical Gold ETC (LSE: SGLN) invests in physical gold kept by JPMorgan Chase Bank in London. The ongoing charge is 0.12%.
"Alternatively, investors may also want to consider investing in gold mining stocks via passive ETF such as VanEck Gold Miners ETF (GDX)," says Dzmitry Lipski.
"However, investors should be aware that physical gold and gold mining stocks are quite different asset classes. While physical gold is better for inflation hedging and diversification, gold mining stocks provide an operating leverage for investors comfortable with greater risk. As the gold price appreciates, the mining company's margins improve, so the potential return to investors likely goes up at a faster rate than the rise in gold. In this case, mining stocks become a better option than holding physical gold," Lipski adds.
All of the above funds can be held in an Isa and a Sipp.
More from MoneyWeek:
With additional contributions from Tom Higgins.