Gold, as a physical asset, has for centuries been regarded as an asset that will hold its value over time. It’s relatively rare and its value is respected regardless of political borders. So gold ingots, bars, wafers, minted coins and jewelry with a high gold content have long been favored as safe havens for value. However, storing wealth in such a manner does have some difficulties. Safety and cost of storage are considerations and finding a buyer may be difficult, especially with jewelry and coins which may have high markups for reasons to do with aesthetics and rarity. The securities industry offers some alternatives. A simple way to use gold as part of your investing strategy is to buy units in an exchange-traded fund or ETF. A gold ETF does not, however, own any gold. Rather it holds derivative contracts that are backed by gold. Therefore the fund’s units reflect the changing price of gold. When you sell, you get cash, not gold.
There is another popular way to invest in gold through the stock market. There are many companies engaged in the exploration, mining and production of gold that offer their shares for sale on the stock market. However, the price of gold bullion, as it rises and falls, often has a levered effect on gold stocks. This means that the price of gold stocks is usually more volatile than the price of the underlying commodity. And while your gold stock’s corporate headquarters may be situated in a safe, stable country, its mines may be located abroad and exposed to the downside of some less developed jurisdictions around the world. You may find the price of your gold stock suddenly subjected to a sudden jump in costs, a drop in ore grades, strikes, expropriations, floods and so on. Or worse. Many Canadians will remember Bre-X Minerals Ltd., a company with headquarters in Calgary, that bought a property in the jungle near the Busang River in Borneo, Indonesia. Before the supposed discovery of gold was all exposed as a fraud, Bre-X’s capitalization grew to over $6 billion CAD in 1996. Its shares were soon worthless.