The price of gold has soared during the credit crunch and global downturn due to being seen as a safe haven by nervous investors. That's not to say it won't fall in future, but for as long as the economic outlook remains uncertain the gold price should remain fairly robust. And if emerging markets continue to prosper then their demand for gold jewellery should be good news longer term. Read more about the outlook for gold in our article here.
The traditional way to invest in gold is to buy gold coins and bars or shares in gold mining companies. Both are valid approaches, but they have their drawbacks. Gold coins and small bars are often sold at a premium (gold dealer markup) and may incur storage/insurance costs while mining company shares tend to be more risky than buying gold itself.
Gold Bullion Securities is an exchange traded fund (ETF) which offers a very simple and convenient way to invest in gold. It's traded on the London Stock Exchange so you can buy and sell via low cost stockbrokers as you would other shares. And, unlike conventional shares, there's no stamp duty when buying. There's a difference between the buying and selling price, effectively a charge, but this tends to be around 0.1% (although it could widen if there were a big difference between the numbers of buyers and sellers).
Its aim is very simple - to track the gold price. It does this by buying physical gold bars, which are held by the custodian, HSBC. Although Gold Bullion Securities is priced and traded in pounds, the underlying gold price is quoted in US dollars and as there's no currency hedging you need to be aware that currency movements could affect the value of this investment (this would also be the case if you held physical gold).
Aside from stockbroker dealing fees (which should be about £10 or less online these days) there's a 0.4% annual management charge, i.e. £40 per £10,000. The management charge is reasonable for modest holdings, although if you want to invest tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds you may find buying physical gold more cost effective.
Because the fund is backed by physical gold it should (in theory) prove a secure investment, ignoring falls in the gold price! In the unlikely event etf Securities goes bust then the gold held by custodian HSBC should underwrite the value of your investment. This is just as well as the fund isn't covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
The Gold Bullion Securities fund is domiciled in Jersey but has UK reporting status for tax purposes, which means gains are subject to capital gains tax in the normal way. It doesn't produce an income. It may also be held in self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs) and individual savings accounts (ISAs).
Since launch in March 2004 the fund has done what it says on the tin, attracting lots of investors and growing to over $5 billion in size in the process. While some will still prefer the peace of mind of owning physical gold bars and coins, this is a practical and convenient alternative worth considering if you want to track the gold price in your portfolio. Just beware the annual management charge as this could make larger investments less cost effective than buying physical gold.