A Gold ETF for Your Portfolio

Photo: Flickr user Bouillon Vault.

If you're interested in investing in gold, it makes sense to consider a gold exchange-traded fund. You won't have to store or protect any coins or bars in your home, and can buy and sell as many or as few shares as you want on a daily basis. However, think twice about investing in a gold ETF that represents and tracks the price of gold, and instead consider buying shares in gold mining companies.

Not so glitteryA look at the history of the price of gold can be sobering. People tend to buy it during a downtown in the stock market and/or the economy, thinking gold is a "safe" investment. It hasn't been so safe or profitable for many investors over the years, though. For example, consider that though it surpassed $600 per ounce in 1980, gold on average was in the low $300s in 1985. It averaged nearly $450 per ounce in 1987, but needed another 19 years, to 2006, to top that. The price of gold has surged in recent years, topping $1,800 per ounce in September 2011, but it was recently down 32% from that level, near $1,221.

Wharton School professor Jeremy Siegel has calculated the average returns for stocks, bonds, bills, gold, and the dollar, between 1802 and 2012 (yes, that's 210 years!):

Source: Stocks for the Long Run.

Gold is clearly not the best performer over the very long run -- it barely topped inflation!

Image: Flickr user Tony Oliver

Opting for minersIf you don't think you have the right touch to time your gold investment perfectly for profit, you might look at gold miners and companies tied to them instead. After all, whether gold is rising or falling, they'll be exploring and producing, and aiming to make money. Not all succeed, though, so it can be smart to invest in a bunch, hoping the winners will outpace the losers. That's what ETFs focused on gold mining do. You can further diversify by choosing an ETF that focuses on silver as well as gold, and a prime candidate is the Global X Silver Miners ETF . It is down about 18% over the past year, which has some value investors taking notice.

Despite its name, the Global X Silver Miners ETF holds stock in miners of both gold and silver. (After all, many companies don't restrict themselves to just one metal.) Consider, for example, its recent top holding, at 14.5% of assets,Silver Wheaton . Silver Wheaton is a metal royalty interest company with a compelling business model. It isn't investing in mining equipment and doing mining itself -- instead, it funds miners in exchange for the ability to buy a portion of the precious metals produced at set low prices over long periods of time. It recently boasted an average cash cost per ounce of gold of $393 -- far below prevailing prices. It is also boosting its gold investments: The yellow metal recently made up about 27% of its revenue and is expected to make up a third by 2018. Gold (and silver) might not be surging now,but they will eventually, and in periods of rising prices, miners and companies tied to them will reap greater profits.

Silver Wheaton has a compelling business model. Source: Silver Wheaton.

The Global X Silver Miners ETF offers a dividend that recently yielded about 0.8%, while it charges an annual fee of 0.65%. It has only been around for a few years -- years in which metals were falling more than rising -- but over the past three years it nevertheless outperformed precious metals stocks, on average.

If you're a long-term investor who can tolerate volatility, and you believe in the long-term strength of precious metals, give this investment some consideration.

The article A Gold ETF for Your Portfolio originally appeared on Fool.com.

Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, ownsshares of Silver Wheaton (USA). The Motley Fool owns shares of Silver Wheaton (USA). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Copyright 1995 - 2014 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.