Gold rush -- Ways to invest in gold

Has the glitter of gold caught your eye? As the price of the precious metal surges to levels it hasn't seen in 25 years, investors who might not ordinarily dabble in such things are wondering if gold should be in their portfolio. Some investment advisers tout gold as a way to diversify a portfolio and protect against inflation and a decline in the value of the dollar.

The conundrum for investors is that gold can be owned in different forms. Some are riskier than others. Liquidity varies, as do the costs associated with each form of the asset. Here's a look at just a few of the more popular ways to participate in today's gold rush.

Bullion and coins
Unless you're the Clampetts of "Beverly Hillbillies" fame, you can't store barrels of crude oil in your backyard. But when a commodity's price is pegged to the ounce instead of the barrel, you can hoard it in your house, stash it in a safe-deposit box or pay a company to store it for you.

If owning gold appeals to you, prepare to do a lot of reading and investigating before buying. Scammers are sure to congregate wherever the scent of investment money lingers in the air.

Gold dealers sell gold bullion bars in various weights from 1 ounce to 100 ounces or larger. You can also buy gold coins, such as the American Eagle, through dealers, brokerages and some banks. The U.S. Mint has a list of authorized dealers. You'll pay a commission or premium, and most dealers have purchase minimums. Be sure to study the differences between bullion gold coins, which are valued according to the market price for an ounce of gold, versus coins that have a collector's value.

Exchange-traded funds
Gold can carry concerns about authenticity and purity, as well as storage and insurance costs. But you can shed those worries and still own a chunk of gold by investing in exchange-traded funds that make buying and selling gold bullion as easy as buying and selling stocks.

The share price of streetTracks Gold Shares (GLD) roughly tracks the price of gold and represents an investment in gold bullion. In effect you get to own gold without the hassle of storing and insuring.

"With GLD, each share is priced at about one-tenth the price of gold bullion. If gold goes to $600 an ounce then the price of a share should be about $60," says Martin Weiss, editor of Money and Markets.

The objective of iShares COMEX Gold Trust (IAU) is the same but, so far, is much less widely traded than GLD.

There are fees associated with exchange-traded funds but they're usually low. In addition, expect to pay a commission to your broker for each trade.

Stocks are an investment in a publicly traded company. When it comes to gold stocks, you're investing in a mining company. Gold mining stocks can be more volatile than the exchange-traded funds.

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