August 13, 2022

What is the Best Way to Invest in Gold?

Major Gold Mining Stock Outperforms Bullion and Gold ETFs

Investors in gold often wonder about the best way to own the precious metal.  Gold is gold but depending on the vehicle used to purchase gold, investment returns can vary dramatically.

Simply put, the three basic ways to invest in gold are gold bullion, gold bullion ETFs, and gold mining stocks.

Gold Bullion

Purchasers of gold bullion may not trust “paper gold” or they may simply appreciate the beauty of gold bars and coins.  There is an innate satisfaction in being able to physically admire and touch gold, a metal that has had value to man since before the dawn of civilization.  Paper currencies always eventually wind up worthless while gold will maintain purchasing power.  The pleasure of owning physical gold does have drawbacks, the biggest of which is security and storage.

Although gold has moved up dramatically since 2019, the current price of around $1,950 is still slightly below the record high of $2,061 reached in August 2020.

gold Technical chart [Kitco Inc.]

Gold Bullion ETFs

An easy and low-cost method for purchasing gold bullion is by investing in gold bullion ETFs.  Funds put into gold ETFs are invested in physical gold and the fund is responsible for physical security.  The largest gold ETF is the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) which currently holds about $68 billion in assets.  The ETF has a relatively low expense ratio of 0.40%.  The GLD will closely match the move in the price of gold bullion less the expenses of running the fund.

The GLD currently trades at $181.47 slightly below its high of $190.81 reached in August 2020.

Another ETF worthy of consideration is the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) which currently trades at $36.97, holds $32 billion in physical gold and has an expense ratio of only 0.25%.

Gold Mining Stocks

Gold mining stocks are where it all starts.  Someone must undertake the expensive process of locating and mining gold ore to produce refined gold.  The profit generated by the gold mining stocks depends not only on the price of gold but also on how efficiently gold mining companies are at exploration and deploying capital.  Many junior gold mining companies have not been able to participate in price gains despite the increase in gold prices.

There are two ways to invest in gold mining companies.  An investor can invest in a basket of gold mining stocks in a mutual fund or ETF such as VanEck Gold Miners ETF (GDX) or by purchasing individual gold mining companies.  Purchasing an ETF allows an investor to spread risk across the industry.  Purchasing a successful gold mining company can result in gains that far exceed the increase in gold bullion.

For example, the GDX currently trades at $39.67, below the price reached in August 2020.

Now, look at the performance of Newmont Corporation (NEM) a major gold mining company which has recently exploded to an all-time high and up 173% since late 2019.

There is no way to know which way of investing will work out best until after it happens.  Always diversify to reduce risk is probable the best advice.

Buy The SPDR Gold Trust – You Don’t Argue With Paulson and Soros

Despite the correction in gold prices since last summer, investors in gold ETFs have increased their stakes.  Worldwide holdings of gold ETFs are now at a record 2,417 metric tons according to Bloomberg News.

The SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is the largest gold ETF and has returned a lustrous annual return of 18.4% since the fund’s inception on November 18, 2004.  The GLD currently holds 1,258.15 tonnes (40.45 million ounces) of gold in trust valued at $64.8 billion.  The all time record high holdings of the SPDR Gold Trust was 1,320.47 tonnes on June 29, 2010.

The slight decline from record gold holdings of the GLD do not represent a lessening of gold demand by investors.  Numerous competing gold trusts such as the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) which holds $9.3 billion of gold bullion have simply given investors a wider choice of options and expanded the overall market for gold ETFs.

Word that two of the world’s most successful investors have increased their stakes in the SPDR Gold Trust highlight the fact that the bull market in gold is far from over.   Billionaires John Paulson and George Soros, both long time investors in the GLD , both recently increased their holdings.

Courtesy yahoo finance

While Paulson has increased his massive stake in the GLD over time, Soros attempted to time the market.  In the first quarter of 2011, Soros sold 4.7 million shares of the GLD which brought his holdings down to a token 49,400 shares.  Subsequent to his sale, gold soared about $500 per ounce higher to $1,900 during August 2011.  Short term trading is difficult for anyone, including one of the world’s most successful investors.  Since the fundamental reasons for owning gold have only become more compelling, small investors would be best advised to hold long term instead of trying to trade a temporary price pullback.

Courtesy kitco.com

According to Bloomberg, Paulson and Soros Add Gold As Price Declines Most Since 2008.

Billionaire investors George Soros and John Paulson increased their stakes in the biggest exchange- traded fund backed by gold as prices posted the largest quarterly drop since 2008.

Soros Fund Management more than doubled its investment in the SPDR Gold Trust to 884,400 shares as of June 30, compared with three months earlier, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing for second-quarter holdings showed yesterday. Paulson & Co. increased its holdings by 26 percent to 21.8 million shares.

Paulson, 56, who became a billionaire in 2007 by betting against the U.S. subprime mortgage market, lost 23 percent in his Gold Fund through July as lower bullion prices and slumping mining stocks contributed to declines.

Still, prices have rallied for 11 consecutive years, gaining more than sevenfold, as investors snapped up the metal after government and central bank stimulus programs boosted speculation that inflation would accelerate. The metal is up 2.4 percent this year.

“People expect prices to rise in the third quarter since historically it has been proved that it’s one of the best periods for gold, and investors who see easing coming in from various central banks are either increasing or holding on to their positions,” Donald Selkin, the New York-based chief market strategist at National Securities Corp., which manages about $3 billion of assets, said by telephone.

Paulson’s increased stake in the GLD should come as no surprise.  In a previous post during July, it was noted that Paulson remained steadfastly bullish on gold with a $4,000 target.

Precious Metals Storage – Everything You Need To Know But Probably Don’t

By Nick Barisheff:

Worldwide economic uncertainty has created a growing interest in precious metals as a way to preserve wealth. Today, global risks for investors include currency devaluation, sovereign debt defaults, bond market collapses and stock market losses, all underpinned by ever-increasing government debt.

For protection from impending economic Armageddon, investors are turning in increasing numbers to the traditional safe haven of precious metals. Unfortunately, many today don’t know how to purchase or store bullion, and consequently may find themselves as vulnerable to financial collapse as those who didn’t purchase any bullion at all.

This increased interest in precious metals as portfolio insurance has spawned a new generation of precious metals-based financial products, many of which are paper proxies or derivatives of bullion. There are even unregulated markets for the exchange of “digital gold.”

A clear case for transparency

In 2007, former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge gave a speech entitled “A Clear Case for Transparency”  to the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce. “…[I]investors will have to take on more responsibility for diligent research,” he said, “so that they can better understand the nature of their investments and demand greater transparency where it is now lacking … they must do their own homework and make a concerted effort to understand what they are buying.”

Most investors do not read the fine print of the agreements they sign with respect to financial investments; they make assumptions, but do not definitively know if they own actual bullion. Some are attracted to certain bullion investments because of low premiums and low storage fees, but when was the last time Wall Street and the major banks gave the investing public a deal?

Investors who don’t do their homework may be dismayed to find that their safe haven asset has proved to be anything but. These same people perform rigorous due diligence when purchasing a home, car or boat, demanding that they have clear legal title to the asset in question. The same attention to detail must be paid when investing in bullion.

The most important concept to understand is that a financial institution CAN sell an investor’s bullion if the agreement states that it can. Banks are not raiding allocated accounts; rather, they are following the provisions of the contract, in which the bullion is not allocated despite an investor’s assumptions.

There does appear to be cause for concern regarding the transparency of bullion products. As reported by the economic news website ZeroHedge, financial services giant Morgan Stanley paid out $4.4 million in June 2007 to settle a class action lawsuit brought by clients after the firm charged them to “buy and store” precious metals, but did neither .

Similarly, a class action lawsuit filed in New York’s federal court accuses UBS Financial Services of misleading silver investors, and charging them storage fees for metals that were never purchased, let alone allocated or stored for them.

A larger problem has been brewing for several years now, that of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). These are generally viewed as a low-cost panacea that replaces almost any investment strategy, including the purchase of gold bullion, and they are giving investors a false sense of security.

False sense of security for ETF investors

ETFs started as equity index vehicles, in which brokers acting as Authorized Participants borrowed shares from institutions, hedge funds, mutual funds or their clients’ margin accounts to contribute to the Origination Basket of shares. They received ETF shares at Net Asset Value (NAV) in exchange, and sold them to investors at NAV – keeping all of the money. This is standard practice, as brokers have always been able to borrow shares from clients’ margin accounts for the purpose of shorting or for lending to other brokers.

Essentially, many ETFs hold assets that have been borrowed. Because there are no specific prohibitions to prevent the same practice from being used in precious metals ETFs, the same methodology is likely being used. Many investors are attracted by the low management fees offered by precious metals ETFs, but few understand the problems that may arise when more than one person has claim to the same asset.

ETF-based financial crisis could make 2008 look like child’s play

This ETF structure will work during normal market conditions. However, it may result in losses and disputes if the Authorized Participants, acting as market makers, become insolvent or step aside during a precipitous decline. If a bank or brokerage firm becomes an insolvent Authorized Participant, either the lender of the assets or the ETF shareholders will suffer losses. During a market crash, existing holders may be unable to sell their ETF shares.  Although this possibility was considered remote when ETFs were created, the recent and recurring failures of banks and brokerage firms make these concerns far more real .

The bottom line on ETFs is that they are tracking vehicles with multiple claims/counterparty risks on their assets as well as their shares. As debt-based stress on the global financial system continues to build, the flash-crash of 2010 may well have foreshadowed an ETF-based financial crisis that will make the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 look like child’s play.

Own bullion with clear title

When we at Bullion Management Group sit down with clients seeking to own bullion, we present them with our Precious Metals Pyramid Chart. Moving up the pyramid increases risk; moving down the pyramid increases safety. A portfolio’s foundation should consist of physical bullion owned outright. Farther up the pyramid are proxies of bullion in one form or another that are more risky and often less liquid; in other words, the opposite of a safe haven asset you can count on in times of financial stress. Bullion should always meet two criteria: It should not be someone else’s liability, and it should not be someone else’s promise of performance.

To establish a physical bullion portfolio foundation with metals that are stored on an allocated and insured basis, one that will protect against what could be called ethical mayhem in today’s financial sector, investors must, as Governor Dodge advised, make a concerted effort to understand what they are buying. While reading legal documents and prospectuses is tedious, the truth is in the fine print and investors must do their own due diligence, and beware of complex investment structures.

Demand documentation that transfers title directly to the purchaser

For a bullion product, be it a fund or actual bullion bars, to earn its place as the foundation of a portfolio, the bullion purchaser must demand documentation that legally transfers title of specific, physical bars directly to them. Do not accept IOUs, paper proxies or derivatives. It is important to read the purchase documents carefully to ensure they convey legal title. Only after the purchaser has legal title can they enter into a binding custody agreement for bullion storage on an allocated, insured basis. In that agreement, the purchaser must be able to identify all terms and rights concerning insurance and secure, allocated storage.

Proper insurance and allocated storage in a credible, guarded vault costs money, so steer clear of bullion products promising low fees. If the deal appears too good to be true, the physical bullion may not exist. What the investor may have is paper bullion that will not offer protection when it is most needed; they may simply be an unsecured creditor of the dealer. It is hardly prudent to be tempted by low storage fees that will save a fraction of a percentage point while risking an entire bullion holding. Short cuts and penny pinching are inadvisable strategies for any asset intended as an ultimate safe haven of wealth protection.

Home storage not worth the risk of invasion or physical assault

Many people think that storing their bullion at home is a good way to economize on physical bullion storage fees, but be aware that any sizeable amount of home-stored bullion will not be covered by a household insurance policy.

Keeping a modest—and secret—stash of small-denomination gold or silver for barter purposes is recommended in the event that ATM machines aren’t working, or a ‘bank holiday’ is announced. This may seem like an excess of caution until you consider that, earlier this year, the Bank of Italy authorized the suspension of payments by Bank Network Investments Spa (BNI) without first advising depositors .

Unless absolute secrecy is maintained, home storage means putting yourself and your family at risk of a home invasion. There has been an increase of home invasions in England during Asian wedding season, when gold gifts are stored in homes, and street gangs and professional thieves are only too happy to relieve people of their precious metals .

Even in peace-loving Canada, a British Columbia man lost his life savings of $750,000 in silver bars to knife-and-gun wielding thugs who arrived at his door disguised as police officers. When he let them in, the ‘officers’ forced him to open his vault and stole the silver . For any sizeable amount of bullion, home storage is clearly not worth the risk.

Many precious metals dealers do not trust banks for storage, and prefer private vault facilities. They may rethink this approach on reviewing a British case where authorities raided three private safe deposit box centres, and opened 6,717 private boxes . The owners of the boxes were required to provide proof of the contents of their box before their possessions were returned. Most could not do so, and much of the cash involved went missing while other items are in dispute. The ensuing litigation will likely last for decades; in the meantime, those who stored bullion in their boxes have been relieved of their metal, and may only receive compensation in the amount of the value of the bullion at the time of the raid.

Another consideration is that safe deposit box contents cannot be insured, and there is no proof that anything is actually in the box. Investors who are still interested in private vaults or safe deposit box centres should perform due diligence on the financial condition of the operator and the owner of the vault, since stored assets may be at risk in the case of a private vault’s insolvency.

Storing bullion at home, in a safe deposit box or in a private vault is another form of false economy, wherein investors put their safe haven asset at risk to save a small amount in storage fees.

LBMA bullion in LBMA member vaults

Another important aspect of due diligence for a proper foundation of wealth preservation is the assurance that your bullion is in the form of Good Delivery bars, and stored in the vault of a London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) member.

The LBMA is a wholesale, over-the-counter market for trading gold and silver. Its members include the majority of the bullion banks that hold gold, plus producers, refiners, fabricators and other traders throughout the world.

The reason for insisting on LBMA bullion is that it assures the purchaser of the quality and fineness of the bars. Once gold is outside a chain of integrity such as that of the LBMA, it may need to be re-assayed before it can be sold. This prevents gold-plated Tungsten bars from entering the chain of integrity. Re-assaying is time consuming, engenders extra cost and once again defeats the purpose of a safe haven store of wealth that offers efficient liquidity.

We constantly hear stories of discount bullion, or bullion sold at no premium to the spot price. The likelihood that this is pure bullion from an ethical source is slight to none.

In case of fire, you need an extinguisher, not a picture of one

Bullion demand is clearly growing as both sovereign nations and the world’s largest financial institutions buckle under the burden of unserviceable debt, leaving helicopter-loads of new money printing and associated currency devaluation as the only way out.

Investors can protect their portfolios by purchasing physical bullion. Just as with any large asset purchase, demand documentation that confers legal title to the bullion you are purchasing, review a written custodial agreement that specifies insured, allocated storage without giving the custodian the right to deal with the bullion in any way, and insist on Good Delivery bars.

When the next financial firestorm erupts, you need real, physical bullion and not a paper proxy; just as in a fire you need a real fire extinguisher, not a picture of one.

Nick Barisheff is President and CEO of Bullion Management Group Inc., a bullion investment company that provides investors with a cost-effective, convenient way to purchase and store physical bullion. Widely recognized in North America as a bullion expert, Barisheff is an author, speaker and financial commentator on bullion and current market trends.  His first book, $10,000 Gold: Why Gold’s Inevitable Rise is the Investors Safe Haven, will be published in the fall of 2012. For more information on Bullion Management Group Inc. visit: www.bmgbullion.com.

Gold Bullion Coin Sales Jump 9% In December, But Decline 18% For The Year

Demand for physical gold increased in December as buyers took advantage of a recent pullback in gold prices.

According to production figures from the U.S. Mint, sales of American Gold Eagle bullion coins in December totaled 65,500 ounces, an increase of 9.2% from December 2010.  Total sales of gold bullion coins for 2011 declined by 18% from the prior year.  For all of 2011, a total of 1,000,000 ounces were sold compared to previous year sales of 1,220,500 ounces.

The sales figures cited above do not include gold numismatic coins sold by the U.S. Mint.  Collector versions of gold coins such as the American Buffalo Gold Proof Coin can be purchased directly by the public from the U.S. Mint.

The American Gold Eagle bullion coins cannot be directly purchased by the public from the U.S. Mint.  Instead, a network of authorized purchasers (AP’s) buys the coins in bulk from the Mint at a fixed markup.  The AP’s in turn resell them to secondary retailers for public sale.  The AP distribution system established by the U.S. Mint was determined to be the most efficient method for selling gold bullion coins to the public at competitive prices.

Although sales of gold bullion coins increased during August and September when gold was soaring to all time highs, the largest  monthly sales of gold bullion coins occurred in January when gold was trading in the $1,350 range (please see chart below for monthly sales figures).

U.S. Mint Gold Bullion Sales By Month

 

2011 marks the third year in a row of reduced purchases of gold bullion coins but this is not indicative of an overall reduction in investment gold demand.  Competing investments such as gold trust ETFs may be responsible for a large part of reduced demand for physical gold.

Besides much lower transaction costs, investors in gold ETFs or other paper gold products do not have to worry about security and storage costs.  Since their launch in 2005, investors have poured billions of dollars into gold trust ETFs.  For example, the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) and the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) now hold gold bullion valued at over $82 billion.  By contrast, the approximate value of all American Eagle Gold bullion coins purchased last year amounts to only $1.6 billion.

The all time record sales of American Eagle gold bullion coins occurred in 2009 when 1,435,000 ounces were sold.

Gold Bullion U.S. Mint Sales Since 2000
Year Total Ounces Sold
2000 164,500
2001 325,000
2002 315,000
2003 484,500
2004 536,000
2005 449,000
2006 261,000
2007 198,500
2008 860,500
2009 1,435,000
2010 1,220,500
2011 1,000,000
Total 7,249,500

 

Will gold bullion sales continue to decline?  The recent implosion of MF Global along with unrestrained money printing by central banks should provoke some clear headed thinking by investors.  Customers of MF Global who thought they had warehouse receipts for physical gold and silver were shocked to find that the bankruptcy trustee put all assets into a single pool to cover  claims of all customers who have lost billions of dollars.

Paper assets can be vaporized in an instant, even those that are allegedly backed by physical assets such as gold and silver.  A question well worth pondering is “Could what happened at MF Global also happen to investors in the gold trust ETFs”?

 

Gold Bullion Coin Sales Plunge 63% In November and 20% YTD – Have Americans Given Up On Gold?

Total sales of American Gold Eagle bullion coins plunged in November according to production figures from the U.S. Mint.

Total sales of gold U.S. Mint bullion coins declined by 63.4% in November from the previous year.  Sales of U.S. Mint gold bullion coins declined by 19.5% on a year to date basis through the end of November.  A total of 41,000 ounces were sold in November 2011 compared to sales of 112,000 ounces in November 2010.  Year to date sales through November totaled 934,500 ounces compared to the previous year to date totals of 1,160,500 ounces.

The reduction in the purchase of U.S. Mint gold bullion coins continues a trend of reduced sales since the record breaking year of 2009 when a total of 1,435,000 ounces were sold.  Total gold bullion sales  for 2011 will probably slip below one million ounces for the first time since 2009.  If sales decline in December by the same percentage amount as in November, total 2011 sales of gold bullion coins will come in at 956,500 ounces.

A summary of gold mint bullion coin sales since 2000 is shown below.

Gold Bullion Sales Since 2000

Gold Bullion U.S. Mint Sales Since 2000
Year Total Ounces Sold
2000 164,500
2001 325,000
2002 315,000
2003 484,500
2004 536,000
2005 449,000
2006 261,000
2007 198,500
2008 860,500
2009 1,435,000
2010 1,220,500
2011 934,500
Total 7,184,000

Why would gold bullion coin sales be plunging when gold has been steadily rising?  Have Americans given up on gold?  Let’s look at various trends in gold sales to get some perspective.

-Annual sales of gold bullion exceeded a half million ounces only once before 2008.  The financial crash of 2008 precipitated concerns about the integrity of both the banking system and the U.S. dollar, causing a huge increase in demand for physical gold.  Gold bullion sales exploded higher in 2008 and sales for 2011 remain far above levels seen prior to 2008 despite the recent drop in sales.

-Based on the current price of gold, the total value of all gold bullion purchased from the U.S. Mint since 2000 is $12.6 billion.  This amount represents only a fraction of the amount of investment dollars that have flowed into gold over the past decade.  In addition to purchasing physical gold, investors now have the option to purchase gold through gold trust ETFs.  The amount of money poured into the gold trust ETFs is many multitudes greater than the investment in physical gold bullion coins.  For example, since their inception in 2005, the combined gold holdings of the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) and the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) have grown to 47.2 million ounces valued at $82.5 billion.

-Gold ETFs have grown exponentially from their inception a short six years ago but the largest gold ETF, the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD), has not been able to exceed its record gold holdings of 1,320.47 tonnes reached on June 29, 2010.  In addition, billionaire John Paulson recently liquidated a substantial portion of his GLD holdings, although much of the selling may have been forced due to severe losses in his hedge funds.

-Gold trader sentiment is either bullish or bearish, depending on who you talk to.

-Central banks, which have been increasing their purchases of gold since 2000, have sharply accelerated their purchases of gold bullion over the past several years.  Central banks from Asia and Latin America have accounted for most of the increased purchases.

-According to the World Gold Council, global gold investment demand increased by 33% in the 2011 third quarter compared to the prior year.  Investment demand for gold bars and coins increased by 29% and global gold holdings by gold trust ETFs increased by almost 78 tonnes.  Demand for gold increased notably during the third quarter in Europe and China.

While it is indisputable that global gold demand has increased, the appetite for gold by U.S. investors seems to be diminishing.  What do you think?