Physical Gold vs. Gold ETFs (like $GLD) – Where Should You Invest?

POSTED ON April 4, 2023
Physical Gold vs. Gold ETFs (like $GLD) – Where Should You Invest?

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Gold has been used as a form of investment for centuries due to its historical value, durability, and scarcity. Gold can be an attractive investment option for various reasons. People choose to own gold for portfolio diversification, as a store of value, inflation hedge, due to global demand, because it’s a tangible asset, and a potential for capital appreciation.

It’s important to note that gold, like any investment, has risks and is subject to market fluctuations. It’s essential to carefully consider your investment goals, risk tolerance, and other relevant factors before investing in gold.

But if you’ve decided to invest in gold, how should you go about doing it? Should you buy physical gold, or should you purchase a gold Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) such as $GLD from SPDR Gold Trust? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

What is a Gold ETF ($GLD)?

SPDR Gold Shares (also known as SPDR Gold Trust) is an ETF that denotes a fixed amount of gold bullion, unlike many ETFs which represent ownership in a basket of stocks. SPDR Gold Shares are designed to initially track the price of a tenth of a troy ounce of gold. If the share price differs from the gold market price, the fund’s manager exchanges blocks of 100,000 shares for 10,000 ounces of gold. The possibility of such exchanges keeps the ETF price roughly in line with the gold price, although the prices can diverge during each day.

gld - gold etf

Advantages of Investing in Gold ETFs

There are several reasons why someone might choose to invest in a gold exchange-traded fund (ETF) instead of physical gold:

  1. Ease of ownership and liquidity: Gold ETFs are traded on stock exchanges, making them easy to buy and sell through a brokerage account, just like stocks. They provide investors with a convenient and liquid way to gain exposure to the price of gold without the need to physically buy, store, and sell gold bars or coins. This can be especially advantageous for investors who are looking for a more flexible and liquid investment option.
  2. Lower costs: Investing in gold ETFs can often be more cost-effective compared to owning physical gold. Physical gold may involve additional costs such as storage fees, insurance, and transportation costs. Gold ETFs typically have lower expenses, such as management fees, compared to the costs associated with buying and holding physical gold.
  3. Diversification: Gold ETFs can offer diversification benefits as they typically invest in a portfolio of gold bullion or other gold-related securities. This can provide investors with exposure to a broader range of gold investments compared to owning a single piece of physical gold, which may reduce concentration risk.
  4. Transparency and ease of tracking: Gold ETFs provide transparent pricing and holdings information, allowing investors to easily track the performance of their investment. This can provide investors with more visibility and information compared to physical gold, which may be subject to appraisal or authentication.
  5. Lower counterparty risk: When owning physical gold, there is a risk of counterfeit gold products or theft. Gold ETFs are backed by reputable custodians and typically hold physical gold in secure vaults, reducing the counterparty risk associated with physical ownership.
  6. Flexibility and scalability: Gold ETFs allow investors to buy or sell shares in smaller increments, providing more flexibility and scalability compared to owning physical gold, which often involves buying larger quantities of gold bars or coins.
  7. Tax efficiency: Gold ETFs may offer tax advantages, such as potential capital gains tax deferral, compared to owning physical gold, depending on the investor’s jurisdiction and tax situation.
  8. Leveraged Trading: Like other investment products, you can trade Gold ETFs using leveraged tools or on margin, allowing you to take larger positions than you’d otherwise be able to take.
  9. Options & Financial Tools: Owning ETFs also allows you to trade additional financial securities associated with them, for example selling covered calls to collect premium on your gold ownership. You could even short gold prices, betting that they will go down rather than up.

It’s important to note that, like any investment, gold ETFs also have their own risks, such as market risk, liquidity risk, and potential for price fluctuations. It’s essential to carefully consider your investment objectives, risk tolerance, and other relevant factors when deciding between investing in gold ETFs or physical gold, and to seek professional financial advice if needed.

investing in physical gold bars

Why Physical Gold?

There could be several reasons why people choose to buy physical gold instead of an Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) that invests in gold:

  1. Tangibility and ownership: Physical gold, such as gold coins or bars, provides investors with a tangible asset that they can physically hold and store. Some investors prefer the sense of ownership and control that comes with physically owning gold, as it can be stored at home or in a private vault.
  2. Emotional attachment and sentimentality: Gold has been considered a store of value and a symbol of wealth for centuries, and some people may have an emotional attachment to owning physical gold. They may view it as a form of wealth preservation, a family heirloom, or a sentimental possession.
  3. Privacy and confidentiality: Buying physical gold can offer a higher level of privacy and confidentiality compared to investing in an ETF. Purchasing gold coins or bars does not require disclosing personal information to a financial institution or being subject to regulatory reporting requirements.
  4. Diversification and hedging against economic uncertainty: Physical gold is often considered a form of diversification in investment portfolios, as it is not directly correlated with traditional financial assets such as stocks and bonds. Some investors may choose physical gold as a way to hedge against inflation, currency fluctuations, geopolitical risks, or economic uncertainty.
  5. Accessibility and liquidity: Physical gold can be easily bought and sold through various dealers, coin shops, or online platforms, providing investors with relatively easy access to the market. Physical gold can also be converted into cash quickly in the event of an emergency or financial need.
  6. ETFs Asset Backing: Exchange traded funds are designed to follow the price of gold, but they are often not actually backed by the security itself. In other words, you don’t actually own gold if you own an ETF. You just own something that approximates the price of gold. If something happens to the company running the ETF, or the fund itself, then there is no physical gold to fall back on.
  7. Trade Tool: Many people lack trust in fiat currencies such as the US Dollar and believe assets like gold and silver provide more security when it comes to transactions for good or services. In an event where fiat currencies are not accepted, having gold (or especially silver, since its lower value makes it easier to exchange in small amounts) in physical form could be used as currency.

100g gold bar

Risks of Owning Physical Gold

While owning physical gold can offer potential benefits, such as diversification and hedging against economic uncertainty, there are also risks associated with owning physical gold. Some of the common risks of owning physical gold include:

  1. Storage and security risks: Physical gold needs to be stored securely to protect it from theft, damage, or loss. This may involve additional costs for secure storage facilities, insurance, or security measures. If gold is stored at home, there may be risks associated with theft or damage.
  2. Counterfeit risk: There is a risk of counterfeit gold products, particularly when buying from unknown or untrusted sources. Counterfeit gold coins or bars may have little to no value, resulting in financial loss for the investor.
  3. Illiquidity: Physical gold can be less liquid compared to other investments (including ETFs), as it may take time to find a buyer and complete a transaction. Selling physical gold may also involve additional costs, such as assay fees or dealer markups, which can impact the overall return on investment.
  4. Lack of income generation: Unlike some other investments, physical gold does not generate income, such as dividends or interest. Its value is primarily dependent on changes in the price of gold, which may not provide regular income for investors seeking cash flow.
  5. Regulatory and tax risks: There may be regulatory requirements and tax implications associated with owning physical gold, such as reporting requirements, capital gains taxes, or import/export restrictions. It’s important to understand and comply with the relevant regulations and tax laws in your jurisdiction. For example, India, China, the United Arab Emirates (UAB), and Venezuela have restrictions in place on the import, ownership, and/or use of physical gold.

The decision to buy physical gold versus an ETF should be based on an individual’s investment goals, risk tolerance, and personal preferences. It’s always recommended to seek professional financial advice before making any investment decisions. So, investors should carefully consider their personal circumstances and do thorough research before choosing between physical gold and ETFs. It’s always a good idea to consult with a financial advisor to determine which investment option best aligns with your specific needs and financial goals.

If you’re looking to invest in gold but want to reduce the risks of owning physical gold, you may consider selling your gold to us and buying an ETF instead. It improves liquidity, reduces costs of ownerships, and provides you with more options when it comes to managing your wealth. As long as you trust the financial system will not completely collapse and the ETF you’re invested in to stay solvent, it may be a good idea to sell your physical gold. That said, a lot of people love the tangibility, privacy, and sentimentality of owning a bar of gold, and we get that!