As gold investing has surged in recent years, so too has the popularity of the gold ETF space. These funds have allowed for investors of all kinds to add exposure to an asset that was once difficult for retail investors to afford. Now, there are a multitude of ETFs tracking this yellow metal, each with their own nuances and methods for providing the best exposure. But many are left wondering which gold ETF is the best [for more gold ETF news and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter ].
The answer isn’t quite as clear cut as a simple ticker. In reality, the answer is that it depends on your investment objectives and goals. Different funds will be better for different people. Below we outline several scenarios and which gold funds are the best for investors who fall under those categories.
For Traders, A Clear Choice
This one is not even a competition. The SPDR Gold Trust (GLD ) is not only the most liquid gold fund, but it is one of the largest funds in the world. This physically-backed ETF represents about 1/10th an ounce of gold and has been immensely popular over the years. Currently, the fund has about $72 billion in assets and trades nearly 8 million shares a day. The fund also has an extremely active options market. allowing traders to make speculative bets with limited risk.
When it comes to trading, it may be surprising to see that physical gold takes the cake, as most commodities are most liquid in the futures markets. GLD has simply outdone its futures competition and is an easier trade than dealing with futures exchanges. There are other gold products with strong liquidity, but none scratch the surface of this SPDR juggernaut [see also Peter Schiff: Gold Can Only Go Higher ].
Buy and Hold: A Heated Debate
Of course, a large amount of individuals are looking to simply buy and hold gold as it has shown strong historical appreciation. GLD
is certainly a competitor, but there are other funds in the space that may present better opportunities. The iShares COMEX Trust (IAU ) also tracks physical gold, but charges 15 basis points less than GLD. The lower fees mean that IAU will generally outperform its larger competitor by a slim margin, and the fund still has an impressive $11.5 billion in assets.
Here is where things get a bit more complex. IAU is cheaper on the surface, but it represents 1/100th an ounce of gold, meaning you would have to buy 10x more shares to hold the same amount of gold as you would with a GLD investment. Assuming penny-wide spreads in both funds, that will mean that you are paying far more upfront using IAU. You would need to hold on to the gold for a while to reap the benefits of IAU. But for someone looking to hold for several decades, this fund offers a compelling choice [see also The Dangerous Sign Jim Rogers Sees For Gold ].
Usually at this point the conversation ends, but there is one fund that most investors forget about, the E-TRACS UBS Bloomberg CMCI Gold ETN (UBG ). This ETN holds a basket of multiple gold futures contracts to help avoid contango in its roll process. But that is not why it deserves a closer look. UBG takes a victory lap around GLD and IAU when it comes down to taxes, as its ETN structure will charge just 15% for long term capital gains; both IAU and GLD are taxed as collectibles at 28% no matter how long you hold them.
Let’s say you invested $10,000 in GLD, IAU, and UBG exactly three years ago. Your positions would be worth as follows:
- GLD – $15,589
- IAU – $15,905
- UBG – $15,372
IAU’s lesser expense ratio allows it to edge out in performance, but when you add in the tax expenses of these three year positions, the tables are turned.