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Gold Funds: Better Than Bullion?

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After several years of hibernating, gold is back.

Since the start of the year, gold bullion has gained 18% while global gold mining stocks, as measured by the iShares MSCI Global Gold Miners ETF (RING), have soared almost 60%. In comparison, many global stock market indexes along with the S&P 500 have yet to show positive year-to-date performance.

All of this is good news for gold-focused mutual funds, which over the past few years, have struggled to attract investors’ attention due to abysmal returns. 

The Tocqueville Gold Fund (TGLDX) has rebounded with an impressive 33% year-to-date gain.

“Our strategy is to de-emphasize bloated, large-cap companies and to focus on smaller mining companies with entrepreneurial managements that could provide more upside with an increase in gold’s price,” said John Hathaway, co-manager of Tocqueville’s gold fund, in a recent interview.

About 85% of TGLDX’s holdings are committed to mid- and small-cap stocks, according to Morningstar. Also, the fund has just 6% exposure to U.S. stocks while the remaining balance is invested in international gold equities. TGLDX has $1.15 billion in assets and charges 1.43% annually.

Gold has a storied history of booms and busts that at times have lasted for decades.

After the convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold was abolished in 1971, gold prices soared more than 2,000% and hit a peak of $850 per ounce in 1980. But instead of adding to its gains, gold prices entered a two-decade decline, crashing more than 70%. And in 2008, after 28 years of pain, gold bullion finally got back to its 1980 price peak of $850 per ounce.

The recent global trend of negative interest rates and countries trying to devalue their currencies to remain economically competitive have helped boost demand for gold.

The Fidelity Gold Advisor Fund (FGDAX) is another gold-focused equity fund that’s been lifted by rebounding prices in precious metals. The $1.3 billion fund has jumped more than 41% since the start of the year. Almost 70% of FGDAX is concentrated in midsize- and small-company mining stocks.

FGDAX has a front-end load of 5.75% and its annual expenses are 1.19%. Fidelity also offers a load-free version of the same fund, which has an expense ratio of 0.9%.

Investors aren’t the only ones warming up to gold. Global central banks too have been diversifying into bullion. Central banks bolstered their gold reserves significantly by 336.2 tons during the second half of 2015, according to the World Gold Council. This was a 28-ton increase compared with the same period in 2014.

The SPDR Gold Shares is the world’s largest gold-linked exchange-traded product (ETP). GLD has around $32.57 billion in assets and each share is designed to closely track 1/10 the ounce price of gold bullion.

Because physical gold bullion and gold-backed ETPs are taxed as collectibles and a higher long-term capital gains rate of 28%, some advisors favor gold equity funds, which enjoy lower long-term capital gains rates of 15% or 20% for those in the top 39.6% federal tax bracket.

Despite lower tax rates on gains, investing in gold stocks isn’t for the faint of heart. Historically, the volatility of gold stocks has been roughly double that of gold bullion, which can also be volatile.

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