Optimal Gold Investment Strategies Without Physical Ownership

Optimal Gold Investment Strategies Without Physical Ownership

6 Min.

Investors who want to add gold to their portfolio might face difficulties and extra costs when trying to acquire physical gold coins, bars, or jewelry. Fortunately, there are other options available. You can invest in derivative contracts that track the price of the precious metal, or gold mutual funds and ETFs that monitor its value. Another option is to invest in the shares of gold mining stocks. It's important to note that each investment option carries its own risks and advantages, including market, credit, liquidity, and management risks. Before making a decision, it's crucial to consider these factors carefully.


Gold has held enduring value for centuries and continues to maintain its worth in 2023, as the cost of a single ounce of this precious metal exceeded $1,900 on January 20th. Investors often consider gold a reliable asset for preserving value and guarding against inflation. However, managing substantial quantities of physical gold can prove challenging and burdensome. Costly security measures are frequently implemented to deter theft. Thankfully, numerous alternatives exist for participating in gold price fluctuations without the need to possess the metal physically.

Gold Backed Electronic Tradable Receipts

The early origins of credit banking can be traced to goldsmiths who safeguarded community members' gold deposits, issuing paper receipts in return. These receipts could later be exchanged for the deposited gold. Recognizing that only a fraction of receipts would be redeemed at any given time, goldsmiths began issuing them for larger bullion quantities than they held. Thus, the fractional reserve credit system emerged.

Today, investing in gold receipts, redeemable for physical gold, remains a viable option. While most government mints no longer engage in private gold transactions, certain independent "mints" do. For instance, the Royal Canadian Mint (unaffiliated with the Canadian government) offers Electronic Tradable Receipts (ETRs) backed by their stored gold and collectible coins crafted from precious metals. These ETRs are tradable on exchanges or in private transactions, mirroring the gold's price supporting them.

Gold Derivatives: Contracts and Options

In the realm of gold investments, derivatives play a key role. Unlike receipts backed by gold and can be redeemed for it upon request, derivatives are financial contracts where gold serves as the underlying asset, facilitating future delivery.

Forward contracts grant the contract holder the privilege to purchase physical gold in the future at a predetermined price. These contracts are negotiated over-the-counter (OTC), allowing for tailored terms between the parties, including contract expiration and specifics about the underlying gold quantity and location of delivery.

Similarly, futures contracts operate on the same principle as forwards but are traded on exchanges, with standardized terms set by the exchange, eliminating customization. Unlike OTC forwards, exchange-traded futures mitigate counterparty credit risk. Often, these contracts are not held until expiration; instead, they are either closed or rolled over to new contracts with extended expiration dates.

Call options offer an alternative method to gain exposure to gold. Unlike futures or forwards, call options grant the holder the right, but not the obligation, to purchase gold. Essentially, a call option represents a deposit for the right to buy gold in the future at a predetermined price (the strike price). If the actual gold price surpasses the strike price, the option holder profits; otherwise, the premium paid for the option is forfeited, akin to losing a deposit.

Gold Investment Funds

Derivatives markets offer an efficient and cost-effective means of accessing gold with significant leverage, although they may not be readily accessible to the average investor. Instead, typical investors can gain exposure to gold through mutual funds or ETFs that track gold and are traded as shares on stock exchanges.

One popular choice is the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (GLD), which aims to mirror the performance of gold bullion prices. Additionally, some leveraged gold ETFs offer 2x long exposure, such as ProShares Ultra Gold (UGL), or 2x short exposure, like Goldcorp (GG).

Investing in Gold Mining Stocks

While owning stocks of gold mining companies like Barrick Gold (ABX) or Kinross Gold (KGC) might offer indirect exposure to gold, it's crucial to recognize that these investments may not provide the desired exposure to the precious metal. Gold companies primarily aim to profit from the cost of mining compared to selling gold rather than speculating on its price fluctuations. Consequently, most gold firms use derivatives to hedge their gold price risks. Owning shares in these companies predominantly exposes investors to the companies' operational profit margins. For investors seeking to diversify their equity portfolio with gold stocks, a viable option is a gold miners ETF, such as the Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX).

Gold Mining Stocks vs. Physical Gold: A Comparative Analysis

Comparing the merits of gold mining stocks to investments in physical gold reveals distinct advantages and potential drawbacks. Gold mining stocks represent ownership in gold mining companies, offering participation in their profits. This can be advantageous due to the potential for higher returns through leverage. However, leverage also elevates the risk, potentially resulting in greater losses.

Gold mining stocks contribute to portfolio diversification as they often exhibit a lower correlation with other assets, such as stocks and bonds. This independence from broader asset class movements can provide a measure of stability.

Nonetheless, investing in gold mining stocks carries inherent risks. The value of these stocks is influenced not only by gold prices but also by the operational and financial performance of the mining company. Additionally, they may be exposed to economic and political risks, including regulatory changes and tax fluctuations, more so than physical gold.

In summary, while investing in gold mining stocks offers potential advantages, it also introduces complexity and increased risk compared to physical gold investments. Evaluating these pros and cons is vital before making an investment decision.

Risk Considerations in Alternative Gold Investments

Investing in gold through indirect or alternative methods presents unique advantages and associated risks. Gold mining stocks offer leverage and diversification but expose investors to market risk, credit risk, liquidity risk, and management risk.

  • Mutual funds or ETFs focusing on gold provide diversified exposure to gold-related assets without direct gold ownership. However, they come with market risk and management risk.
  • Gold-based savings plans and certificates enable indirect gold investment but entail credit risk and potentially lower liquidity than physical gold.
  • While offering flexibility, gold futures contracts and options on gold futures introduce complexities and risks, including market risk, liquidity risk, and potential losses from margin calls.

Before any investment decision, it's crucial to meticulously assess the inherent risks and benefits of these alternative gold investment methods.


Gold, valued as a store of wealth and a hedge against inflation, often poses challenges due to its physical nature and associated costs. Fortunately, numerous alternatives provide exposure to gold without the need for physical possession. Gold receipts, derivatives, and mutual funds/ETFs offer viable pathways to achieve this. However, shares in gold mining companies, while initially appealing, may not deliver the desired gold exposure as these firms commonly hedge their own price risk using derivatives markets.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Futures Trading
Gold Receipts
Gold Fund
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