A South Korean employee shows a gold bar at Shinhan Bank in Seoul.(Photo: Jung Yeon-Je, AFP/Getty Images)
If you own a gold fund, you've probably heard about the big gains
gold bullion has made this year. You may also be wondering why your gold
fund hasn't shared in any of those gains.
The short answer: If
you invested in a fund that buys the shares of gold-mining companies -
as many do - you probably lost money this year. If you bought shares of a
fund that buys the metal itself, you made money.
That's not the
normal order of things. Typically, gold miners fare better than the
metal itself in a bull market for gold. But these are not typical times.
argument for gold-mining stocks is fairly simple. When the price of
gold rises, a company that produces gold sees its earnings increase at a
faster pace than the metal itself. Let's say you owned a mine that
could produce gold for $1,100 an ounce. When gold is $1,200, you make
$100 an ounce in profits.
Let's say that gold jumps from $1,200 to
$1,500 - an increase of $300, or 25%. For the gold miner, however,
profits have jumped from $100 to $300 - a 200% gain.
bullion has risen to $1,721.10 from $1,531 at the start of the year - a
12% gain. But the average gold-mining fund has dropped 6.6%, according
to Lipper. What gives?
Gold-mining stocks are still stocks. And
the public is much more leery of stocks than gold, says Robert Cohen,
manager of the Dynamic Gold and Precious Metals fund (DWGOX). "In a
market where there's a perception of large financial problems, people
get nervous about stocks," Cohen says.
Gold-mining stocks now have competition. The first fund that invests only in gold bullion, the SPDR Gold Trust,
made its appearance in 2004 - and since then, gold-mining stocks have
largely lagged behind the metal, says John Hathaway, co-manager of
Tocqueville Gold fund (TGLDX). "Gold-mining funds are no longer the only
game in town," Hathaway says. "Now, just one click of the mouse and you
And, says Cohen, gold-mining companies are seeing
increasing costs. As the price of gold rises, many countries where gold
miners operate are now increasing their demands for a cut of the
profits, Cohen says.
A bigger problem than costs, however, is the
cost of starting new mines. Not only are there large environmental
expenses in opening a mine, but it's more expensive to line up money for
a new one. "Ore grades are down, discoveries are down, environments are
more hostile, and infrastructure is less available."
was below $500 in the early 2000s, gold miners were hanging on by their
fingernails, Hathaway says. Now they're less inclined to take big risks.
"They're saying, 'We were with you when you were down and out, we don't
want to be risking our newfound dreams of growth,'" Hathaway says.
question now: Gold or gold stocks? "Most people are better off owning
the metal," says Hathaway. When you own the metal, you don't have to
worry about missed earnings or disappointing production results. You
only have to worry about whether gold prices will go up or down.
gold stocks are historically cheap, Cohen says. "You have to accept
that they are cheap and may stay cheap. The question is, what is the
catalyst that brings them back."
for example, is selling for about five times earnings before interest,
taxes, depreciation and amortization, says Hathaway. The stock also has a
3% dividend yield.
If the stock market rallies, gold miners
could outperform as investors regain confidence in stocks. But fears
about the fiscal cliff - a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts
that could send the economy reeling if Congress doesn't act by Dec. 31 -
are keeping investors wary of stocks.