Gold stocks are publicly-traded companies involved in the exploration, mining and processing of the mineral gold. What is a gold stock?
Investing in gold is considered to be a core strategy for many investors. Gold is considered a safe haven and a hedge against the volatility of the market. In general, when gold prices rise, it means investors are concerned about the value of currencies.
This concern can be tied to monetary policy. For example gold prices soared in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The United States Federal Reserve Board (i.e. The Fed) began a program of quantitative easing that flooded the stock market with liquidity. While economists will debate the merits of this policy for decades, there’s no question that it devalued the U.S. dollar and caused gold to climb.
In fact, in September 2011, the spot price of gold soared to $1,900 an ounce. In the aftermath of the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, gold prices are approaching these record levels again. That is making gold once again one of the most practical investments you can make.
And in 2020, investing in gold has never been easier, but it does require some research. The most common way for investors to buy and sell gold is by buying the physical metal itself, usually in the form of gold coins. However, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are becoming a popular alternative because they mirror the price movement of gold without the obstacles that can come from the cost (and peripheral obstacles like storing and insuring) associated with buying gold directly.
Gold and other precious metals are widely considered to be a hedge against inflation. However, in volatile times like these investors look to gold because of its value. Simply put, the price of gold tends to rise when investors believe that the value of currency is going to fall.
Gold can be purchased in many ways. One way is to purchase gold in its physical form. This is frequently done by buying gold coins, but it can also mean buying actual gold bullion.
This approach has its drawbacks. Specifically gold can be expensive. At the time of this writing, an ounce of gold is trading for over $1,800 an ounce. That’s almost three times the price of one share of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA). Plus, physical gold also should be stored and insured. And taking possession of physical gold usually involves transaction fees of some sort.
That’s why investing in gold stocks can be a desirable outcome. The purpose of this article is to give you an overview of how to invest in gold stocks. We’ll look at the different types of gold funds that exist, the factors you should consider when choosing gold stocks. We’ll also look at the pros and cons of trading gold on the futures market using options contracts.
How do you invest in gold stocks?
Investing in gold stocks is less expensive and offers more liquidity as a way to get involved with precious metals. However, gold does not exist as a company that you buy shares of. Instead when you hear the words “gold stocks” it means you are directly buying shares of a mining company such as Barrick Gold (NYSE:GOLD) or you are buying into a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF).
When you invest in a mining stock, you’re not investing directly into physical gold. And while it’s true that shares of a mining company should have a correlation to physical gold, the correlation is often a loose one. This is because mining companies have opportunities and challenges that are unique to their sector.
Also as corporations, they have an obligation to their shareholders. While this can sometimes affect capital growth, many mining stocks do pay a dividend which can make them a desirable addition to a value investor’s portfolio. For example Newmont Corporation (NYSE:NEM) pays a dividend yield of 2.74%.
How to Invest in Gold ETFs
Just how attractive has it become to invest in gold ETFs? According to Gold.org, in the first five months of 2020, investors bought into gold ETFs at a record pace. Through May 31, investors bought $33.7 billion worth of gold ETF shares.
Shares of an ETF can be bought and sold throughout the trading day just like shares of stock. This is a crucial difference between an ETF and a mutual fund. Since the price of gold can move rapidly in either direction (and sometimes it can make large moves), ETFs are becoming more attractive for investors.
There are many mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that move with the price of gold. When choosing to invest in gold stocks via an ETF or mutual fund, investors have options. One is to find a fund that invests in the metal itself. One such example is the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (NYSE:GLD). This fund is the oldest, and largest, physically backed gold exchange traded fund (ETF) in the world.
One share of the ETF is valued at one-tenth the spot price of gold. At the time of this writing that would be about $180.
The other option is to find a fund that invests in the stocks of physical gold as well as into gold mining companies. These funds may have price movement that is more volatile than an investment in the physical metal itself. Plus, mining companies are subject to geopolitical or environmental concerns that will not affect the cost of physical gold.
What Factors Should You Consider When Buying Gold Stocks?
As is the case when you buy any mutual fund or ETF you should pay attention to the expense ratio (i.e. the annual fee) charged by the fund. The average expense ratio for gold ETFs is approximately 0.65%.
Another factor to consider is the five-year return of the ETF. This is particularly true if you are investing in a fund, such as the GOLD fund, that is tied directly to the physical metal. Roughly speaking the returns should approximate the movement of gold over that period.
Gold Stocks and Options Trading
In recent years, more experienced investors are trading options on physical gold. This is because options trading is a way to, potentially, make a profit while putting less capital at risk.
Options trading means trading in gold futures. A futures contract is traded on an exchange. Buyers and sellers negotiate a specific quantity and price for gold at a specific date.
When you buy an option you are buying the right, although not the obligation, to buy or sell a specific equity at the option price. Essentially you’re betting on price action to occur in a specific direction. If you’re right, it can be very profitable. If you’re wrong, you’re simply out the premium you paid to buy the option.
Investors can choose to take a long or short position in gold. For those unfamiliar with options trading, a long position means an investor is buying gold with the expectation of gold prices rising. In this case, the investor is looking to buy gold at a lower price. By contrast a short position is taken when an investor is looking to sell gold in anticipation of price falling. In this case, the investor is selling gold but intends to cover it later at a lower price.
While this is a different process than buying shares directly, some investors find it to be a more efficient way to trade gold. ETFs come with management fees and taxes on capital gains. Plus regardless of if the fund is actively or passively managed, every ETF has a fund manager that makes decisions on the investor’s behalf.
By contrast, trading futures avoids all of that. And because most investors can use margin to trade, every $1 can represent up to $20 of physical gold.
Trading gold futures is often used as a hedging strategy against the volatility of the stock market or against a weak dollar. Trading gold using options is also a way for speculators to invest in gold without having to have physical gold in their possession.
The final word on investing in gold stocks
For many investors, precious metals are a constant in their portfolio. Others move in and out of gold and other metals as conditions warrant. That’s one reason why gold stocks can be an appealing option. Rather than hold the physical asset, investors can trade shares just like they do for other equities in their portfolio.
And if investors don’t want to trade in the options market, they can choose to invest in the security of an exchange-traded fund (EFT) or mutual fund. While these investments are not going to hold as much value for investors as holding the physical asset, they are a low cost way of maintaining a position in gold without the need to hold physical bullion.
However you decide to invest in gold, it’s important to understand that while gold is known as a true store of value, it can be volatile. Therefore investing in gold while not at a risk of going to zero does contain a level of risk that may be uncomfortable for risk-averse investors.