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What you need to know about Gold Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)


What you need to know about Gold Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Amidst the pandemic, a certain yellow-coloured precious metal has received global recognition as a safe haven from volatile markets. While often associated with its physical form i.e. jewellery, coins, or gold bars, gold can be traded in paper form as well – one of which is Gold Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

Popular in its own right for being cost-efficient, transparent, and liquid, you can invest with a smaller commitment of capital, and without the hassles of safe storage or insurance concerns. But you might be wondering, what are Gold ETFs?

What are Gold ETFs?

Think of Gold ETFs as a “basket of goods” related to gold. These “goods” are diversified and could be in the form of shares from companies that specialise in gold, or futures contracts for gold, among others.

There is a myriad of Gold ETFs available, with each fund’s composition being disclosed in its fund factsheet. Regardless of the investment objectives of the Gold ETFs, all Gold ETFs share two common traits:

First, the underlying asset is always gold. Second, while they are physically-backed, you will not own actual gold from Gold ETFs – when you sell, for example, you will receive payment in the designated currency.

Additionally, the term “Exchange Traded” means Gold ETFs can be bought and sold like equities over a stock exchange.

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Pros and cons of investing via Gold ETFs

The upsides of Gold ETFs

1.  Lower commitment of capital is possible

2.  Removes the logistical costs of owning physical gold

3.  Tendency toward lower management fees compared to unit trust

4.  Greater liquidity compared to physical gold

a) Lower commitment of capital is possible

For investors with a smaller portfolio, Gold ETFs are more accessible. For example, at a gold price of about US$1,846.34 (as of December 2020), a typical 400 oz. or 200 oz. gold bar would cost US$738,536 or US$369,268 respectively.

With Gold ETFs however, one unit in the fund represents but a small piece of the pie. For example, one unit in a Gold ETF may be equivalent to just about one gram of gold – a quantity that is not cost-effective to buy and sell physically. At the time of writing, some Gold ETFs are trading at about US$159.96 per unit.

As such, Gold ETFs allow you to gain exposure to gold, without tying up too much of your capital.

b) Removes the logistical costs of owning physical gold

Investing in physical gold requires safe storage spaces. This may require the use of a bank or private vault deposits, which incur additional costs. Keeping gold at home is risky, as home content insurance benefits limits  may not be sufficient to cover the value of your gold (this can range from as low as $500, to over $20,000 – check the full terms and conditions of the policy you purchase).

Some investors may prefer to buy insurance policies for their physical gold. This adds to costs in the form of insurance premiums and some insurers will not provide coverage if the gold is not stored in a proper location.

Investing in Gold ETFs remove these logistical issues.

c) Tendency toward lower management fees compared to other funds

Gold ETFs often only mirror the price movements of gold. This is different from an actively managed unit trust fund, where a full-time fund manager is hired to run the fund and to try outperforming a benchmark index.

As such, Gold ETFs have lower management fees. In some cases, they can be as low as 0.4 per cent, which equates to around $80 per year for $20,000 in assets. A lower management fee can mean better gains, as less of the fund’s returns are going toward its upkeep.

That said, always check the various fees and charges on the fund factsheet before buying.

d) Greater liquidity compared to physical gold

As ETFs can be bought and sold like stocks, it is quicker and easier to sell them compared to physical gold. Barring the logistics of safe transport, selling physical gold can be a slow process. Furthermore, not all buyers will buy your gold at the same price or exact spot price as it may depend on a few factors including their commission, the condition of your gold, its content, and the workmanship, among others.

Also, if you have gold stored in forms such as 400 oz. bars, it is difficult to extract partial value from them i.e. you may want to convert just a small amount of your gold to cash, but this is hard to do when it’s stored in a single bar.

With Gold ETFs however, you can buy and sell your units through various trading platforms – even through some mobile applications – and at an amount and price you are comfortable with.

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The downsides of Gold ETFs

The first downside is that the tracking of Gold ETFs is not always perfect. There may be a small margin of error, whereby the ETF does not perfectly mirror the price of gold. This will result in a difference between the price of the ETF, and the actual spot price of gold. The degree of tracking error varies between different funds.

Secondly, as owning Gold ETFs do not lead to being paid in actual gold and payments are received in the form of cash upon selling, this may be unattractive to investors who see physical gold as a truer store of value, compared to fiat currencies.

Thirdly, investors must be aware of the fund’s sponsor. The company behind the Gold ETFs have to be sufficiently capitalised, and should ideally have an established track record. There is a possibility, albeit rare, that an ETF may be closed if the fund’s sponsor runs into financial difficulties.  Do note that the fund’s sponsor may be involved with other financial products or commitments, besides just the ETF.

Finally, some investors may find Gold ETFs are more complex to understand. Different Gold ETFs have different investment objectives, whereas owning physical gold is straightforward. For example, not all Gold ETFs simply track the price of gold –Gold ETFs could also include shares in gold-related companies such as gold mining companies, rather than just gold itself, or shares in other gold-related funds. As such, Gold ETFs can be structured very differently from each other. They could have different risk profiles, despite all of them having gold as a primary asset.

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Where can you buy Gold ETFs?

You can buy Gold ETFs through most licensed brokers, as well as banks. Here at Standard Chartered, our Online Trading platform  allows you to buy and sell Gold ETFs, along with various other exchange traded funds.

Is buying Gold ETFs right for you?

Buying Gold ETFs are a great way to diversify your investment portfolio and it doesn’t take a large upfront capital. Furthermore, re-allocating some of your portfolios into gold may be an appropriate defensive move, especially in these uncertain times. Like any other investment, it is important to understand what you are investing in.

Apart from Gold ETFs, there are several ways for you to invest in gold and several factors that can affect gold prices. Check out the articles on How to Start Investing in Gold: A Beginner’s Guide and 4 Factors Affecting Gold Rates: An Investor’s Guide


This article is for general information only and it does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation of an offer to enter into any transaction or adopt any hedging, trading or investment strategy, in relation to any securities or other financial instruments. This article has not been prepared for any particular person or class of persons and does not constitute and should not be construed as investment advice or an investment recommendation. It has been prepared without regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any person or class of persons. You should seek advice from a licensed or an exempt financial adviser on the suitability of a product for you, taking into account these factors before making a commitment to purchase any product or invest in an investment. In the event that you choose not to seek advice from a licensed or an exempt financial adviser, you should carefully consider whether the product or service described herein is suitable for you.

You are fully responsible for your investment decision, including whether the investment is suitable for you. The products/services involved are not principal-protected and you may lose all or part of your original investment amount. Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore) Limited will not accept any responsibility or liability of any kind, with respect to the accuracy or completeness of information in this article.

Deposit Insurance Scheme

Singapore dollar deposits of non-bank depositors are insured by the Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation, for up to S$75,000 in aggregate per depositor per Scheme member by law. Foreign currency deposits, dual currency investments, structured deposits and other investment products are not insured. For clarity, investment products are not deposits and each of the investment products mentioned do not qualify as an insured deposit under the Singapore Deposit Insurance and Policy Owners’ Protection Schemes Act 2012, Rev. Ed. Cap 77B.

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