What Is the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD)?

What Is the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD)?

6 Min.


Gold, a time-honored and prized global commodity, boasts a rich history of utility dating back millennia. It has served as a form of currency in ancient civilizations, symbolized affluence and opulence, and held profound cultural significance across diverse societies. For generations, astute investors have recognized its unwavering stability and secure allure.

Diversified investment avenues are available for those interested in gold, encompassing the acquisition of tangible assets, investment in gold-related companies, futures contracts, and participation in gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Each option bears its unique intricacies and associated costs. Notably, investing in gold through ETFs stands out as an efficient and accessible method, with the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD) emerging as a prominent choice within this realm.

GLD, the SPDR Gold Shares ETF, diligently mirrors the prevailing gold bullion rates within the over-the-counter (OTC) marketplace. Acting as the fund's sponsor, the trust diligently maintains physical gold bullion and a cash reserve. Gold, a cherished and precious metal, attracts investors looking to shield their holdings from adverse economic trends and inflation while diversifying their investment portfolios.

For individual investors, the prospect of purchasing, insuring, and safeguarding physical gold entails considerable expenses. In contrast, the fund proffers an economically advantageous avenue for acquiring and holding this coveted commodity. ETF shares, marked by their exceptional liquidity, facilitate seamless trading, enabling investors to buy and sell at market prices throughout the trading day. The fund's adaptable structure accommodates the creation and redemption of underlying asset baskets, catering to market demand, with each share representing one-tenth of an ounce of gold's prevailing value. It is vital to note, however, that investors do not possess the facility to convert their ETF shares into physical gold holdings.

GLD's Gold Tracking Mechanism and Holdings

GLD employs a meticulous strategy to monitor the gold price, underpinned by retaining gold bullion within a secure trust. This gold is securely stored in the form of 400-ounce London Gold Delivery bars, meticulously safeguarded within allocated accounts. The physical custody of this gold is entrusted either to a London vault or to the vaults of designated sub-custodians. This tracking process yields an annual tracking error of approximately 0.93%.

The tracking error denotes the variance between the ETF's price and the underlying gold spot price. It primarily arises from expenses related to fund management, transaction expenditures, and the fund's cash holdings. Notably, tracking errors are an inherent feature of fund operations commonly encountered by any fund linked to a benchmark. The trust acquires shares of GLD in bundles of 100,000 shares.

These share bundles are then allocated to authorized participants, typically major financial institutions, on an ongoing basis. These share groupings are priced at the net asset value (NAV) when the trustee ratifies a bundle creation order. Subsequently, these shares are offered to the public at the prevailing market prices of gold and the ETF. GLD boasts substantial physical gold reserves, with holdings reaching 37.2 million ounces, valued at approximately $64.6 billion as of June 19, 2020.

Fund Oversight and Key Entities

The ETF, aptly managed by World Gold Trust Services, is efficiently promoted by State Street Global Markets. BNY Mellon Asset Servicing diligently serves as the trustee, while the secure custody of the physical gold is entrusted to HSBC Bank. SPDR administers a diverse array of esteemed ETFs, spanning those mirroring prominent stock indices to fixed-income ETFs. Within the ETF domain, SPDR stands as an eminent and widely recognized entity.

Fund Characteristics at a Glance

In 2004, GLD pioneered as the inaugural gold price-tracking ETF. It bears a 0.4% expense ratio. While reasonable, other gold ETFs boast lower expense ratios, such as the iShares Gold Trust at 0.25%. For most investors, the discrepancy in expense ratios yields a marginal impact on overall returns, with gold spot price fluctuations wielding more substantial influence.

As of June 19, 2020, GLD commanded net assets totaling $62.4 billion and recorded a one-year total return of approximately 14%. Accessible through any brokerage platform, GLD shares are actively traded on the NYSE Arca exchange.

Suitability and Insights for GLD Investment

GLD offers investors a streamlined avenue for speculating on gold prices, contrasting with the complexities of physical gold transactions. It proves notably accessible when compared to gold futures contracts, known for their substantial leverage amplifying both gains and losses.

Diversification of investment portfolios emerges as another compelling rationale for embracing GLD. Guided by modern portfolio theory principles, incorporating diverse assets mitigates portfolio risk. With a low beta of approximately -0.02, as opposed to the market's average of 0.32, GLD exhibits less volatility than the broader market, making it an attractive choice for diversifying portfolios alongside stocks and other asset classes.

Nonetheless, investors should exercise caution when considering long-term commitments to the fund. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies GLD as a collectible, subjecting profits to a higher tax rate of 28%, in contrast to the typical long-term capital gains rate of 15% or 20%. To circumvent this tax impact, investors can either liquidate positions within a year or maintain shares within an IRA or other tax-deferred retirement accounts.

Utilizing the ETF for Investment

Amid concerns over market downturns, numerous investors view gold as an appealing tangible asset. This fund provides a convenient means to gain exposure to physical gold without incurring the risks and expenses associated with possessing actual gold bullion. Furthermore, the fund offers a straightforward approach to diversifying portfolios with a precious metal commodity. Throughout history, gold has demonstrated its resilience as a store of value during periods of financial turmoil, owing to its lack of correlation with stock markets.

Competing Alternatives in the ETF Landscape

Several other ETFs mirror the gold price, while others delve into leveraged gold ETFs and those focusing on gold miners. The iShares Gold Trust, as previously mentioned, offers gold tracking with a lower expense ratio. The Aberdeen Standard Gold ETF also boasts a 0.17% expense ratio, albeit with approximately $2.05 billion in net assets as of June 2020. Among the gold ETF landscape, GLD stands as the foremost choice in terms of popularity and liquidity.


Gold is a timeless and secure investment. GLD offers accessible exposure to gold with a 0.4% expense ratio. It's a popular choice due to its strong performance and suitability for both speculation and portfolio diversification. However, be aware of the IRS's higher tax rate on GLD profits. In the ETF landscape, GLD stands out as a preferred gold investment.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD)
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