Our unconventional investment idea of holding physical gold in a mainstream investment portfolio is quickly becoming a very conventional idea. In recent months, gold has gained momentum, rising 20% and taking its return over the past 12 months to almost 30%. Gold is once again a front page story for many investors. Gold, as an investment asset, has enjoyed a complicated relationship with many investors and their portfolios. It’s often viewed as a ‘hedge’ against both inflation and stocks (gold tends to have an inverse relationship with the stock and property markets). In fact, during the majority of major stock market crashes gold has provided excellent returns (see table below).
Apart from the substantial geopolitical tensions currently affecting the world, something else more substantial has changed. Historically, many investors avoided gold, or other physical commodities, as they didn’t produce any income. Investors would compare such investments with, say, an investment in a yielding term deposit. This was fair enough, but times they have changed, and the U.S. long-term real yields have moved into negative territory as of June. As mentioned in our lead article, over a quarter of developed market sovereign debt is now negative yielding. Falling real yields have historically been highly positive for gold. When real rates are positive, there is an opportunity cost for holding non-yielding assets such as gold. But at the moment the opportunity cost is nearly zero.
If you hold cash, you’ll get one percent if you are lucky (and rates are going lower) or hold gold and have something that will make your portfolio less risky.
It isn’t just private investors that have rekindled their interest in gold, as central banks bought 224 tones of gold in Q2 2019, representing a 47% year-on-year increase. Net purchases over the past 12 months are up 85%, with the largest buyers being Poland, Russia, China and Turkey. Couple this demand with jewellery (48% of all demand) then the demand side of this asset looks very strong. The supply side has issues that is also adding to the pricing pressures.
There are many ways to get exposure to gold. There are gold miners, such as Newcrest Mining Limited (NCM) that provide a leveraged-type exposure to gold, or fund managers that select a combination of gold- related companies, or an ETF that followd an index of gold miners around the world, like NYSE Acra Gold Miners Index.
In our view, buying a company that is exposed to gold, through mining or exploring, should really be counted as an investment in your equity portfolio. In fact, the above graph shows that, over time, investing into gold equities as a whole is much worse than just buying physical gold.
While we still suggest that it is prudent for investors to include at least some gold in their portfolio, the level and percentage is a harder question to answer, and depends on the risk profile of the individual. However, the starting point for buying gold should always be in physical bullion. For anyone that has seen a bar of gold, it is something you could quickly and easily fall in love with.
If you’re looking to buy your very own bar of gold, we would recommend the Perth Mint. The Perth Mint has a range of services, from buying a bar of gold to take it home and store under your bed, to a buying and holding service (for a small fee of course). The Perth Mint provides a government guarantee that all their gold is 99.99% pure.
However, the easiest way for the average investor to gain exposure to the yellow metal is through Exchange Traded Funds (or ETFs). A gold ETF represents a share in a store of physical bullion, often held in a bank vault or other secure location. If the gold price appreciates, your share in the ETF should also appreciate, as the holding becomes more expensive.
There are two major options for Australian investors who want to pursue this avenue on the ASX. The ETFS Physical Gold ETF (ASX: GOLD) is the largest gold ETF traded in Australia and represents 358,600 ounces of physical gold held in the London bank vaults of HSBC. It charges a management fee of 0.40% annually for storage and other costs.
Like many international commodities, gold is universally traded in US dollars, which means that for Australians, the price we can buy gold at is affected by the gold spot price as well as the price of our dollar relative to the greenback (we have to buy US dollars in order to buy gold). This adds a layer of complexity and volatility that our American friends don’t need to experience. The BetaShares Gold Bullion ETF – Currency Hedged (ASX: QAU) is another option for those who would like to take the currency risks out of the equation. This ETF also stores physical gold in a London bank vault (owned by JPMorgan), but actively hedges against currency movements between the US and Aussie dollars, to give a “purer exposure” to the gold price. This comes at a cost however, with QAU charging a higher fee of 0.59%.
Gold is an easily understood investment, and a true diversifier. These two ETFs make it easy to buy and sell, and to hedge or unhedge your currency exposure to gold. With the alternative of holding a yield cash deposit more or less disappearing, we encourage investors to consider their exposure to gold, more than ever.