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Getting Gold Exposure: Bullion vs. ETFs vs. Mining Stocks

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Got Gold - How to Gain Gold Exposure

How to Get Gold Exposure in Your Portfolio, Explained

A lot of talking heads say, “Buy gold!” but don’t really explain exactly how to buy gold or get exposure to the precious metal.

There are options when it comes to getting exposure to the precious metal, and each one has upsides and downsides worth being mindful of.

Whether you’re interested in holding physical gold in a safe storage space or simply want to add some gold exposure to your investment portfolio, this infographic shows you the differences between gold bullion, gold ETFs, and gold mining stocks.

What to Consider Before Investing in Gold

There are some key considerations to be aware of before you begin investing.

While below are some of the main factors to keep in mind as you pick a gold investment method, be sure to research each method and its properties thoroughly before investing.

Downside and Volatility Risk

The first consideration for any kind of investment should always be how much drawdown you’re willing to stomach before pulling your money out.

When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a price drop across the board for just about every kind of asset, the price of physical gold and gold-backed ETFs held up very differently compared to individual gold mining stocks and gold mining indices.

Case Study: Gold vs. Mining Stocks Drawdown and Returns

AssetDrawdown from March high to March lowReturns from March low to 2020 high
Spot gold and gold ETFs-14.8%42.9%
Barrick Gold Corporation-42.1%146.8%
Gold Miners ETF (GDX)-46.0%182.9%
Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ)-52.7%237.9%

While physical gold and bullion ETFs (which track gold’s price movements) tend to be more resilient during market downturns, they also offer less upside compared to gold mining stocks and indices during bull markets.

Junior miners or exploration companies offer the greatest volatility and potential upside, but carry the highest risk. When investing in any mining company, concrete results from their planning and drilling along with efficient execution in setting up projects and production will best determine the stock’s valuation.

Active vs. Passive Management

Some investors like to actively manage their investments while others prefer a more passive “set and forget” approach.

Each approach has its merits, however, gold ETFs and mining stocks are better suited for more active investors, while shipping and transport costs for physical gold can add up if buying and selling frequently.

Determine whether you’re going to be actively managing your gold exposure or if you’re going to be letting your investment sit for a while. This way you can determine the best method to reduce fees and commissions.

Three Types of Gold Exposure: Pros and Cons

Now, let’s dive into the three main types of gold exposure: gold bullion, gold ETFs, and gold mining stocks and ETFs.

1. Gold Bullion

If you’re looking to purchase physical gold in the form of bullion, there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind. These range from the various fees you’ll pay to where and how you’ll be storing and protecting your gold.

Many bullion dealers offer storage as a service, reducing shipping costs and the extra work of finding somewhere secure to keep your gold.

Fixed Position Sizes and Liquidity

When buying gold bullion it’s important to remember that you are buying coins, bars, or ingots of gold. This means that if you’re looking to sell off half of your gold position but only have a single 1oz gold coin, you won’t be able to!

Due to this, gold bullion might not be the best option for those interested in actively managing their exposure or for those with smaller amounts of capital.

Buying and Selling Commissions

Just about every gold dealer will charge commissions on any buying or selling, which are typically <1% of the value of the order with lower commissions for larger volumes. Some dealers include their commissions as a premium directly onto their prices.

Storage Costs

Storing gold bullion with gold dealers or storage services will incur yearly storage costs that are typically a percentage of your holdings.

While some storage providers have low percentages, they will often have minimum monthly or yearly storage fees. For investors purchasing small amounts of gold it’s important to not let these fees eat up too much of your investment.

  • Fees range from 0.12% to 1.5% annually, with some storage services providing fee discounts for larger volumes of gold
  • While purchases of investment-grade bullion are tax-exempt, taxes are charged on storage fees.

Reputable gold storage services offer full insurance coverage on your bullion stored with them and will keep your gold physically separate from the company’s gold and off the company balance sheet. Some will even provide customers extra peace of mind with pictures of their bullion, typically for an additional cost.

Withdrawal Commissions and Shipping

If you’ve been storing your gold with a dealer but want it closer to home, you’ll have to pay withdrawal commissions along with shipping costs. Some dealers charge a flat rate per bullion or withdrawal, while others charge a percentage of your holdings.

If you’re having bullion sent to you without storing it at the dealer, you’ll just pay for shipping and insurance. These are typically flat fees along with a percentage of the dollar value of your order (ranging from 0.4% to 7.5% depending on the amount and types of bullion).

Before holding your gold privately it’s important to know:

  • Privately held gold is sometimes not fully trusted when sold back to bullion markets, and can lose some of its value.
  • Privately held gold is usually less physically safe compared to gold in a vault, and is almost always more expensive to insure.

2. Gold ETFs

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are a more approachable option to get exposure to gold for those with some experience purchasing shares using online brokers and exchanges.

Gold ETFs enable investors to have exposure to gold’s price while avoiding storage, shipping, and insurance fees. There are also fewer liquidity bottlenecks and tighter spreads with gold ETFs compared to gold bullion.

When buying gold ETFs it is important to remember that in most cases, you never actually own any physical gold. Even though these funds are backed by physical gold, you cannot redeem your shares in exchange for gold.

  • Buying and Selling Commissions: When buying or selling shares of an ETF you’ll likely pay commissions. These commissions are decided by the brokerages and are typically below $10 per buy and sell order, with some brokerages offering commission-free trading to cut costs for active traders.
  • Expense Ratios: Similar to storage fees on gold bullion kept in a vault, gold ETFs charge a yearly expense ratio to cover the costs of management and operations. Expense ratios are typically quite low, ranging from 0.17% to 0.75%, and are taken directly from your investment.

3. Gold Mining Stocks and ETFs

Gold mining stocks and mining ETFs are the most distant from physical gold, and offer exposure to the operating profits, losses, or even discoveries of mining or exploration companies.

Mining ETFs (like the GDX and GDXJ) are a basket of mining stocks for purchase as a single share, helping spread out the operational and concentration risk of investing in a single mining company. Mining ETFs are typically less volatile than individual mining stocks, but can still offer increased returns compared to gold bullion and gold ETFs.

Similar to gold ETFs, mining stocks and mining ETFs have:

  • Buying and selling commissions decided by your online brokerage
  • Annual expense ratios for mining ETFs
  • Potential for dividends depending on the individual mining stock

If buying individual gold stocks, it is important to know that the prospects of any one company can differ incredibly. For this reason, it’s crucial to invest in quality companies, and to have an understanding at factors at play such as management competence, jurisdiction, or project quality and economics.

Find a Gold Investment Method that Works Best for You

Be aware that the methods discussed in this article aren’t the only ways to invest in gold.

If you’re willing to learn a bit more about contract structures and more complex fee structures, look into gold futures contracts. For those with some options understanding and experience, buying call options is another way to get gold exposure. Rare coins and jewelry are another investment method that also carries some artistic value.

Whatever you pick, make sure to thoroughly research your investment, its transaction and price mechanisms, and the commissions and fees you’ll be paying.

All of the investment methods discussed have differing tax implications depending on where you reside, which could influence your decision on how you invest in gold.

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Explainer: What Key Factors Influence Gas Prices?

To help understand what’s happening at the pump, it’s important to first know what key factors dictate the price of gas.

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Explainer: What Key Factors Influence Gas Prices?

Across the United States, the cost of gas has been a hot topic of conversation lately, as prices reach record-breaking highs.

The national average now sits at $5.00 per gallon, and by the end of summer, this figure could grow to $6 per gallon, according to estimates by JPMorgan.

But before we can have an understanding of what’s happening at the pump, it’s important to first know what key factors dictate the price of gas.

This graphic, using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), outlines the main components that influence gas prices, providing each factor’s proportional impact on price.

The Four Main Factors

According to the EIA, there are four main factors that influence the price of gas:

  • Crude oil prices (54%)
  • Refining costs (14%)
  • Taxes (16%)
  • Distribution, and marketing costs (16%)

More than half the cost of filling your tank is influenced by the price of crude oil. Meanwhile, the rest of the price at the pump is split fairly equally between refining costs, marketing and distribution, and taxes.

Let’s look at each factor in more depth.

Crude Oil Prices

The most influential factor is the cost of crude oil, which is largely dictated by international supply and demand.

Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, the U.S. remains a net importer of crude oil, with the majority coming from Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Because of America’s reliance on imports, U.S. gas prices are largely influenced by the global crude oil market.

A number of geopolitical factors can influence the crude oil market, but one of the biggest influences is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia.

Established in 1960, OPEC was created to combat U.S. dominance of the global oil market. OPEC sets production targets for its 13 member countries, and historically, oil prices have been linked to changes in OPEC production. Today, OPEC countries are responsible for about 60% of internationally traded petroleum.

Refining Costs

Oil needs to be refined into gasoline before it can be used by consumers, which is why refining costs are factored into the price of gas.

The U.S. has hundreds of refineries across the country. The country’s largest refinery, owned by the Saudi Arabian company ​​Saudi Aramco, processes around 607,000 barrels of oil per day.

The exact cost of refining varies, depending on a number of factors such as the type of crude oil used, the processing technology available at the refinery, and the gasoline requirements in specific parts of the country.

In general, refining capacity in the U.S. has not been keeping up with oil demand. Several refineries shut down throughout the pandemic, but even before COVID-19, refining capacity in the U.S. was lagging behind demand. Incredibly, there haven’t been any brand-new refining facilities built in the country since 1977.

Taxes

In the U.S., taxes also play a critical role in determining the price of gas.

Across America, the average gasoline tax is $0.57 per gallon, however, the exact amount fluctuates from state to state. Here’s a look at the top five states with the highest gas taxes:

RankStateGas tax (per gallon)
1California$0.87
2Illinois$0.78
3Pennsylvania$0.77
4Hawaii$0.77
5New Jersey$0.69

*Note: figures include both state and federal tax

States with high gas taxes usually spend the extra money on improvements to their infrastructure or local transportation. For instance, Illinois doubled its gas taxes in 2019 as part of a $45 billion infrastructure plan.

California, the state with the highest tax on gas, is expecting to see a rate increase this July, which will drive gas prices up by around three cents per gallon.

Distribution and Marketing Costs

Lastly, the costs of distribution and marketing have an impact on the price of gas.

Gasoline is typically shipped from refineries to local terminals via pipelines. From there, the gasoline is processed further to ensure it meets market requirements or local government standards.

Gas stations then distribute the final product to the consumer. The cost of running a gas station varies—some gas stations are owned and operated by brand-name refineries like Chevron, while others are smaller-scale operations owned by independent merchants.

The big-name brands run a lot of advertisements. According to Morning Consult, Chevron, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell PLC aired TV advertisements in the U.S. more than 44,495 times between June 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021.

How Does the Russia-Ukraine Conflict Impact U.S. Gas Prices?

If only a fraction of America’s oil comes from Russia, why is the Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting prices in the U.S.?

Because oil is bought and sold on a global commodities market. So, when countries imposed sanctions on Russian oil, that put a squeeze on global supply, which ultimately drove up prices.

This supply shock could keep prices high for a while unless the U.S. falls into a recession, which is a growing possibility based on how recent data is trending.

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Real Assets

Mapped: The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

Where in the world are the largest gold mines?

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map of the 10 largest gold mines in the world

The 10 Largest Gold Mines in the World, by Production

Gold mining is a global business, with hundreds of mining companies digging for the precious metal in dozens of countries.

But where exactly are the largest gold mines in the world?

The above infographic uses data compiled from S&P Global Market Intelligence and company reports to map the top 10 gold-producing mines in 2021.

Editor’s Note: The article uses publicly available global production data from the World Gold Council to calculate the production share of each mine. The percentages slightly differ from those calculated by S&P.

The Top Gold Mines in 2021

The 10 largest gold mines are located across nine different countries in North America, Oceania, Africa, and Asia.

Together, they accounted for around 13 million ounces or 12% of global gold production in 2021.

RankMineLocationProduction (ounces)% of global production
#1Nevada Gold Mines🇺🇸 U.S. 3,311,0002.9%
#2Muruntau🇺🇿 Uzbekistan 2,990,0202.6%
#3Grasberg🇮🇩 Indonesia 1,370,0001.2%
#4Olimpiada🇷🇺 Russia 1,184,0681.0%
#5Pueblo Viejo🇩🇴 Dominican Republic 814,0000.7%
#6Kibali🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo 812,0000.7%
#7Cadia🇦🇺 Australia 764,8950.7%
#8Lihir🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 737,0820.6%
#9Canadian Malartic🇨🇦 Canada 714,7840.6%
#10Boddington🇦🇺 Australia 696,0000.6%
N/ATotalN/A13,393,84911.7%

Share of global gold production is based on 3,561 tonnes (114.5 million troy ounces) of 2021 production as per the World Gold Council.

In 2019, the world’s two largest gold miners—Barrick Gold and Newmont Corporation—announced a historic joint venture combining their operations in Nevada. The resulting joint corporation, Nevada Gold Mines, is now the world’s largest gold mining complex with six mines churning out over 3.3 million ounces annually.

Uzbekistan’s state-owned Muruntau mine, one of the world’s deepest open-pit operations, produced just under 3 million ounces, making it the second-largest gold mine. Muruntau represents over 80% of Uzbekistan’s overall gold production.

Only two other mines—Grasberg and Olimpiada—produced more than 1 million ounces of gold in 2021. Grasberg is not only the third-largest gold mine but also one of the largest copper mines in the world. Olimpiada, owned by Russian gold mining giant Polyus, holds around 26 million ounces of gold reserves.

Polyus was also recently crowned the biggest miner in terms of gold reserves globally, holding over 104 million ounces of proven and probable gold between all deposits.

How Profitable is Gold Mining?

The price of gold is up by around 50% since 2016, and it’s hovering near the all-time high of $2,000/oz.

That’s good news for gold miners, who achieved record-high profit margins in 2020. For every ounce of gold produced in 2020, gold miners pocketed $828 on average, significantly higher than the previous high of $666/oz set in 2011.

With inflation rates hitting decade-highs in several countries, gold mining could be a sector to watch, especially given gold’s status as a traditional inflation hedge.

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