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How to Use Gold ETFs


While inflation has not run out of control, the Federal Reserve’s aggressive quantitative easing plans are pushing wary investors to gold assets and exchange traded funds as a hedge against inflationary pressures.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke points out that investors hold gold as a protection against tail risk, low probability events, or “black swan” events, that could act as a catalyst to massive sell-offs in equities or hyperinflation, writes Michael Rawson, ETF analyst at Morningstar. [Gold ETFs Gain Inflows Despite Price Weakness]

“An asset that rises in value when most other assets decline should be very valuable,” Rawson said. “It can be thought of as a kind of insurance. To insure against bad times (that is, the aforementioned tail risks), people are willing to accept small losses in good times.”

Looking at gold prices dating back to 1973 from the London Bullion Market Assocation, the price of gold has shown a positive correlation to rising inflation and falling stocks. [Gold ETFs Hold $1,700 as Fiscal Cliff Talks Drag on]

Specifically, while stocks fell 15% in 1973 and then 26% in 1974 and inflation rose 3% in 1972 to 9% in 1973 and up to 12% in 1974, gold jumped 73% in 1973 and 66% in 1974. More recently, gold rose 4% in 2008 as the S&P 500 plunged 37%.

Over the past decade through 2011, gold appreciated 450% in value, compared to the 30% return in the S&P 500.

“Because the price of gold is sensitive to changes in inflation or the prospects of a disaster, a little bit goes a long way,” Rawson added. “For those who have decided to own some gold in their portfolios, we feel that 5% is an appropriate weight.”

With a 5% allocation to gold, a traditional 60/40 portfolio of stocks and bonds would have a higher risk-adjusted return. Rawson suggests reducing the traditional allocations to 58% stocks and 37% bonds to make room for gold.

Rawson suggests the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) for long-term investors as it has a cheap 0.25% expense ratio. However, large hedge funds and institutional investors would prefer the tighter spreads in the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) . Additionally, for those who feel safer with gold stored in Zurich, the ETFS Physical Swiss Gold Shares (SGOL) provides another alternative.

iShares Gold Trust

For more information on gold, visit our gold category.

Max Chen contributed to this article.

Full disclosure: Tom Lydon’s clients own GLD.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.