December 2, 2022

Should I Buy Gold Bullion or Gold Trust Shares?

Gold trusts have probably been a decisive factor in promoting the ownership of gold and expanding the market to investors who would otherwise not participate in the market. Prior to the establishment of the gold trusts, investors had two primary options for investing in gold, both of which had drawbacks. Gold investors could purchase the shares of gold mining companies or physically purchase gold coins or bars.

The problem with investing in gold stocks or gold mutual funds is that the investment returns may under perform the appreciation in gold bullion. Many gold stocks have vastly underperformed the price appreciation of gold bullion due to company specific issues such as ore depletion, foreign expropriation, environmental problems or financial difficulties relating to the huge cost of mine exploration, development and production. Picking the right gold stock was often difficult.

Physically purchasing gold coins or bullion presents another wide array of problems and costs. Finding a conveniently located and reputable gold bullion dealer takes time and usually entails a trip to the dealer for every transaction consummated. Liquidity is an issue as well since the physical gold would have to be physically transported or shipped to a dealer prior to receiving sales proceeds. Transactions costs on each side of the trade can easily exceed 5%.  Physically holding gold is expensive due to security, storage, transportation and insurance costs.   Gold coins or bullion can also be lost or stolen, the ultimate nightmare for an investor.

Investment in gold share trusts eliminates all of the problems associated with stock selection and physically holding gold. Shares representing an interest in gold can be sold at any time throughout the trading day at market prices.   Investor ownership of gold trust shares represents an undivided, fractional interest in physical gold held by the trust.

Gold share trusts have become extremely popular with investors due to the advantages of owning gold via gold trust shares.  Investors have poured over $57 billion into two of the largest gold share trusts, the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) and the Sprott Physical Gold Trust (PHYS).

As gold prices continue to increase, the gold share trusts are likely to be the investment of choice for many investors seeking to establish or increase an investment in gold.

Sprott Physical Gold Trust (PHYS) Advantages Over SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD)

Investors seeking to increase or establish positions in the gold market have been pouring money into gold trusts. The largest gold trust is the SPDR Gold Trust Shares (GLD) which, since its launch in November 2004, has seen huge investor demand. The GLD currently holds over 39 million ounces of gold valued at $55.5 billion.

The Sprott Physical Gold Trust (PHYS), which began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in late February 2010, is similar to the SPDR Gold Trust Shares in that the investor owns an undivided, fractional interest in gold held by the trust. The PHYS, however, has some major differences from the GLD which may result in an investor preference for PHYS.

As detailed below, the advantages of the PHYS over the GLD are a much lower tax rate on gains and government custody of the physical gold backing the PHYS.

PHYS is not an exchange traded fund (ETF) but rather a closed-end mutual fund trust which means that the physical gold holdings and investor units outstanding do not change.  The PHYS holdings remain constant based on the initial trust offering.  The PHYS holds over 820,000 ounces of gold valued at $1.18 billion.

As with any closed end fund, the net asset value of the PHYS can trade at a discount or premium to the market value of gold held by the trust.   Since its creation, the PHYS has consistently traded at a premium to its net asset value.  The premium has at times reached a substantial 24%.  To avoid paying an excessive premium, potential investors in PHYS should compare the net asset value to the purchase cost of PHYS.

PHYS Premium to net asset value - source: Sprott Gold Trust

The premium paid by an investor to own the PHYS is based on two major factors –  very favorable tax treatment and extremely secure custody holding  of the physical gold that backs the PHYS as explained below.

Discounts or premiums to net asset values also occur with the GLD ETF, based on investor supply and demand during the course of daily trading.  Premiums or discounts on the GLD, however, are extremely small, typically ranging only plus or minus 0.5%.  The very small discount or premium on the GLD is due to the complex manner in which the fund is structured.

The GLD has a complex mechanism by which shares can be “created or redeemed” by the GLD Trust via Authorized Participants.  Authorized Participants are large Wall Street investment firms that profit by arbitraging against a premium or discount to the GLD.  The transactions of the Authorized Participants can result in significant changes in gold holdings by the GLD .  The SPDR Gold Trust was structured in this manner so that the price of the GLD would closely correspond to the underlying price movements in gold.

The PHYS holds 99.5% of its assets in physical gold bullion stored at the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa, Canada.  The gold backing the PHYS is specifically allocated by the Royal Mint to PHYS.  The Trust does not invest in gold certificates or other paper instruments.  The Royal Canadian Mint of the Canadian Government is responsible for any loss or damage to the bullion held for the PHYS and the gold bullion is subject to annual audits.

The custodian for the gold held by the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is HSBC Bank in London. The GLD prospectus notes that the gold held by the Trust is specifically allocated to GLD and that the allocated gold bars “are not a part of the bankrupt’s estate in the event of the bankruptcy of the Custodian”.  In addition, the gold bars allocated to the GLD are identified by number and updated everyday.  After witnessing the failure of very large banks in 2008, investors may be more secure with a Government custodian.

A very significant advantage of the PHYS according to Sprott Asset Management is that investors holding units for more than one year are only taxed at the capital gains rate of 15% compared to a 28% tax rate on gold ETFs and physical gold coins. The gold held by investors in the GLD ETF is considered to be “collectibles” by the IRS and thus taxed at a higher 28% rate.

The prospectus for the PHYS discloses that the fund does have a physical redemption feature that is exercisable on the 15th of each month and processed at the end of the month, a setup which is designed to discourage redemptions. Given the inconvenience, cost and delays involved in redeeming units for physical gold, the Trust expects that most investors will chose to sell their units rather than redeem them for gold bullion.

The reason why the Sprott Physical Gold Trust discourages redemptions is due to the fact that a redemption would be considered a sale of gold by the Trust for tax purposes and thus be taxed at 28%. The taxes paid by the Trust would be passed on to shareholders who would then be liable for taxes above the 15% capital gain rate based on their pro rata share of the gain. Sprott Management believes that it is highly unlikely that any investors would chose redemption versus selling their units on the market.

In any event, even if a partial redemption of units occurred, the pro rata gains would still result in a tax rate significantly less than the 28% that applies to gains on the sale of an ETF. In the extremely unlikely event that all units were physically redeemed, an investor’s tax rate would still be no higher than the 28% rate that applies to an ETF.

Long term ownership of the PHYS in a non tax deferred account thus conveys significant tax advantages over an ETF.  Net investment gains on the PHYS could result in a 13% higher return than an equivalent investment in a gold ETF.  Investors should consult with their tax expert and read the PHYS prospectus before investing.

Since its inception, the PHYS has had a higher return than the GLD.

PHYS VS GLD

The PHYS fund is managed by Sprott Asset Management based in Toronto, Canada. Sprott offers hedge funds, mutual funds, fixed asset funds, limited partnerships and bullion focused funds. The holding company, Sprott, Inc. trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “SII”.


iShares Silver Trust Holdings Continue to Skyrocket

Silver holdings in the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) continued to skyrocket, while holdings of gold in the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) experienced a modest increase.

The iShares Silver Trust (SLV) holdings increased by 209.54 tonnes in the latest week.  The prior two weeks have seen increases of 189.29 tonnes and 164 tonnes.  Total holdings of the SLV are now 52.49 tonnes higher than at the beginning of the year.  The SLV holds 352.8 million ounces of silver valued at $12.76 billion.

The holdings of silver in the iShares Silver Trust have now exceeded peak holdings reached at the beginning of the year.  Silver has moved relentlessly higher in price since last August.  After a brief price correction in January which brought silver down to the $26 level, silver prices have exploded to more than $36 per ounce, a gain of 38% in less than two months.

Given the huge run up in the price of silver, it is not surprising to see holdings of the SLV increase dramatically.  The SLV is a proxy for investors who chose to invest in silver without the cost and inconvenience of holding physical silver.  Purchasing the SLV allows an investor to take an immediate position in silver and without the markups associated with physically purchasing bars or coins.

The annual expense ratio of the SLV is only 0.5% compared to common markups of 5% to 10% when purchasing physical bullion or coins from a dealer.  The SLV has been wildly popular with investors since it was launched and has provided huge returns to patient investors.   The SLV has risen from below $10 in October 2008 to its closing price today of $35.27 for a gain of over 250%.  A purchase of a thousand shares of the SLV at the low of $9.13 in October 2008 would have resulted in profits of $26,140.

SLV - Yahoo Finance

It has been over 30 years since silver hit its all time high price of $48.70 in January 1980.  Huge investment and industrial demand as well as physical shortages of silver are all factors that could easily push silver to a new all time high.  Silver has been making up for lost time and has dramatically outperformed the price movement in gold.  A reversion to the centuries old gold silver ratio could easily push silver prices towards the $100 per ounce level.

GLD and SLV Holdings (metric tonnes)

9-March-11 Weekly Change YTD Change
GLD 1,217.30 +6.34 -63.42
SLV 10,974.06 +209.54 +52.49

Holdings in the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) saw a jump in holdings of nearly 7 tonnes on Monday of this week, which is the largest increase in daily holdings seen in the past two months.  The GLD increased holdings by over 6 tonnes for the week after modest declines in the previous two weeks.   Total GLD holdings are still lower than the beginning of the year by 63.42 tonnes.  The GLD currently holds 39.14 million ounces of gold valued at almost $56 billion.

Since its launch in November 2004 when gold was trading at $445 per ounce, the GLD has been an extremely profitable investment.  As the price of silver broke out and hit new highs, gold has still not decisively broken through its trading range in the low $1400’s.   Gold made a strong move up from $1150 last August and has been consolidating sideways since breaching the $1400 level.

Silver ETF Holdings Soar as Gold ETF Holdings Decline

The SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) holdings declined slightly on the week, while the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) increased its holdings by a substantial 164 metric tonnes

Holdings in the GLD declined by 5.77 tonnes compared to a decline of 2.43 tonnes in the previous week.  Total holdings have declined by 4.9% or 62.48 tonnes since the start of the year.  The GLD currently holds 1,218.24 tonnes or 39.17 million ounces of gold valued at $55.2 billion.

The price of the GLD has traded between $128 and $139 since last October after running up from approximately $110 from the start of 2010.   The GLD was originally launched in November 2004 when the price of gold was trading at $445 per ounce.

GLD - COURTESY STOCKCHARTS.COM

GLD and SLV Holdings (metric tonnes)

23-Feb-11 Weekly Change YTD Change
GLD 1,218.24 -5.77 -62.48
SLV 10,575.23 +164.00 -346.34

Silver holdings in the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) increased by 164 tonnes over the past week compared to an increase in the previous week of 41.01 tonnes.  The year to date decline of 346.34 tonnes represents a 3.2% drop in silver holdings since the beginning of the year.

The Trust is structured so that the value of the iShares will reflect the price of silver owned by the trust.  The price of an iShare should closely track the price of one ounce of silver, less the Trust’s expenses.  However, the price of the SLV will fluctuate during the day as traders buy and sell shares.  If there are many buyers purchasing SLV, the price can rise to a premium over the underlying value of silver as seen in the chart below comparing silver to the SLV.

The amount of silver held by the SLV will vary due to the mechanism by which shares are created or redeemed by the Trust via Authorized Participants.   Authorized Participants are typically large Wall Street Investment firms that will either deliver or take silver from the SLV as they arbitrage to take advantage of premiums or discounts of physical silver to the value of the SLV.  The GLD operates similarly to the SLV which is why an increase in the price of gold and the price of the GLD may not necessarily result in greater gold holdings by the GLD.

SILVER/SLV - COURTESY STOCKCHARTS.COM

The SLV’s closing price of $32.71 on February 23th is 9.2% above last weeks closing price on February 16th and reflects silvers large price increase over the past week as prices broke out to new highs.  Since 2010, the price of silver has more than doubled from the $16 range to the current price of $33.70.

John Paulson Maintains Huge Holdings in SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD)

In 2010, John Paulson personally earned $5 billion, vaulting him into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest persons.  Incredibly, this was not a one time event precipitated by a heavily leveraged bet that just happened to turn out right.  Mr. Paulson had previously made another brilliant call prior to the financial crisis.  Based on his analysis of the subprime mortgage market, Mr. Paulson had the acumen to establish a major bearish position in mortgages, prior to the mortgage meltdown, that resulted in billions of dollars in profits.

It was how Mr. Paulson made $5 billion during 2010 that makes his every move the object of  intense scrutiny by gold investors worldwide.  Mr. Paulson believes that the Federal Reserve is determined to re-inflate every asset class possible, using whatever means necessary.  Without the “benefit” of inflation, the crushing levels of national debt would eventually lead to massive defaults and an economic disaster.   Based on this conviction, Mr. Paulson invested heavily in gold futures, the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD), and other gold structured investments that resulted in his massive paycheck for 2010.

Last October, while speaking at the University Club in New York, Mr. Paulson predicted that the price of gold could easily reach $4,000 an ounce.

With Mr. Paulson’s track record, any change in his gold holdings would obviously be of great interest to gold investors worldwide.

Mr. Paulson directs most of his investments through his hedge fund, Paulson & Co, and is required to report major holdings to security regulators with 45 days after the end of each quarter.   The latest regulatory Form 13-F filing shows that Mr. Paulson’s position in the SPDR Gold Shares Trust was unchanged for the latest quarter.

At December 31, 2010, Mr. Paulson’s holdings in the GLD amounted to $4.37 billion dollars or about 8% of the total value of the Gold Trust.  The value of the GLD’s holdings are currently $53.95 billion.

Other big time successful investors also maintained or increased their holdings in the GLD.  The Soros Fund Management at year end held $655 million of GLD while PIMCO (run by super star bond manager Bill Gross) had holdings of $307.7 million.

Gold ETF Holdings Stable As Silver ETF Holdings Increase

The SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) holdings declined marginally on the week, while the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) increased its holdings by over 41 metric tonnes.   As both gold and silver prices consolidate in a tight price range, both the GLD and the SLV have experienced a decline in bullion holdings since the beginning of the year.

Holdings in the GLD declined by 2.43 tonnes compared to a decline of .71 tonnes in the previous week.  Total holdings have declined by 4.4% or 56.71 tonnes since the start of the new year.  The GLD currently holds 1,224.01 tonnes or 39.35 million ounces of gold valued at $53.9 billion.

The price of the GLD has traded between $128 and $139 since last October after running up from approximately $110 from the start of 2010.   The GLD was originally launched in November 2004 when the price of gold was trading at $445 per ounce.

GLD and SLV Holdings (metric tonnes)


16-Feb-11 Weekly Change YTD Change
GLD 1,224.01 -2.43 -56.71
SLV 10,411.23 41.01 -510.34

Silver holdings in the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) increased by 41.01 tonnes over the past week compared to a decline in the previous week of 38.38 tonnes.  The year to date decline of 551.35 tonnes represents a 5% drop in silver holdings.

There is no direct correlation between SLV holdings and the price of the SLV due to the mechanism by which shares are created or redeemed by the Trust via Authorized Participants.  The Trust is structured so that the value of the iShares reflects the price of silver owned by the trust.  The price of an iShare should closely track the price of one ounce of silver, less the Trust’s expenses.

The SLV’s closing price of $29.96 on February 16th is only slightly below the all time high of $30.40 reached at the beginning of the year.  Since 2010, the price of silver almost doubled from the $16 range to the current price of $30.67.

Gold and Silver ETF Holdings Mixed Amidst Price Decline

Over the past week, gold holdings in the SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) fell, while silver holdings in the iShares Silver Turst (SLV) rose. These changes occurred amidst a decline in the price of the metals and a buoyant stock market.

The iShares Silver Trust, which represents the largest exchange traded fund backed by silver, increased by 13.85 metric tons from the previous week. Total holdings are now 10,917.19 metric tons, or 350.996 million ounces.

Holdings within the SPDR Gold Trust fell by 11.38 metric tonnes in the past week to 1,272.68. Trust holdings had reached a record high of 1,320.47 on June 29, 2010. The decline in holdings from the high is now 47.79 metric tons, or 3.6%. During the same period the price of gold has risen by more than 10%.

GLD and SLV Holdings (metric tons)

Jan 5, 2011 Weekly Change YTD Change
GLD 1,272.68 -11.38 -8.04
SLV 10,917.19 +13.85 +4.38