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A Guide to Physical Gold as an Investment (Updated 2023)

Gold is known as an attractive safe-haven investment and has been used to store wealth during volatile times through history. It has interesting currency-like tendencies, and retains its purchasing power better than paper currencies.

What are the costs of investing in physical gold?

Investing in physical gold is often oversimplified, and the misconceptions can begin with pricing.

A spot price by definition is the cost of immediate delivery, and is a way to gauge the legitimacy of an ask or retail price. A retail price is an amount that includes a markup, or premium. Unfortunately, some investors don’t realize until they make their first purchase that the spot price is not what one actually pays for physical gold.

In addition to premiums, there are numerous other expenses investors should be prepared to pay when purchasing pure gold, including shipping, handling and insurance. There may also be processing fees to own the yellow metal or fees for small lot purchases. In some instances, prices may be higher for individuals who choose to pay with a credit card. Then again, gold prices are sometimes lower for those purchasing larger quantities.

What physical gold products are available?

Physical gold investors are generally looking for items that are 0.999 fine. Several products fit this description, and one of the most preferred is gold bullion coins, such as the South African Krugerrand or the American Gold Eagle.

Another option is gold rounds, which are similar to coins, but are not legal tender. Both gold coins and gold rounds come in various sizes, usually ranging from 1/10 ounce to 1 ounce, though other less common sizes are available.

Gold bars are another popular option. They also come in a variety of sizes, and as choices can range from a 1 gram bar to 400 ounce bar, this category of products can accommodate a range of investors.

When the objective is to get the most metal for the least money, it’s generally best to shop for gold rounds and gold bars, which tend to be cheaper than gold coins of the same weight. The premium for gold coins is higher because of the credibility that comes from being fabricated by government mints.

Another factor that may need to be considered is the amount to be invested. Bars may be the best option for large investments since bigger sizes are available. Further, it is often easier to manage large products than it is to manage an array of smaller gold items. However, physical gold investors also need to give forethought to when they may want to sell their gold. Large products will require liquidating a more sizeable portion of one’s gold portfolio, and such products may be more difficult to sell in some instances. Individuals making ongoing or significant investments may want to consider purchasing gold in various weights.

Where can investors buy physical gold?

Gold buying can be done through government mints, private mints, precious metals dealers and even jewelry stores. Investors should generally avoid numismatic coins or other gold items geared toward collecting and gift giving. These products are for play in a different ball game and are not what the average gold investor needs.

When choosing where to buy gold, it is again best to give thought to reselling it. Some businesses that sell gold will also buy it back. Some will even buy gold that they didn’t sell, but may pay lower prices.

Furthermore, premiums and fees are not one size fits all when buying physical gold. Different sellers may offer the same items at different prices, so investors should take the time to find the best deal.

How should physical gold be stored?

Determining the best storage option involves weighing risks against costs.

Paying for secure storage eats into profits from the metal’s gains, so some people choose to store their gold at home or in their office. In theory, that is the riskiest option as it involves the highest potential for loss due to theft or disaster. But in many instances these risks are not substantial enough to justify the cost of other storage options.

To stave off security risks, the metal can be stored in a depository or safe deposit box. Investors who do so should note that rates vary, so bargain hunting can pay off. Another aspect to consider is that some banks do not technically permit the storage of bullion, and this is listed in the terms and agreements that customers are required to sign. Also, not all security boxes are insured, so that is another factor to consider when selecting a banking institution for a safety deposit box.

Is it possible to purchase physical gold through the futures market?

A gold futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell gold on a date in the future for a price that is determined when the contract is initiated. The futures market is often referred to as an arena for paper trading. Generally, the bulk of the activity is just that, as metal is not actually exchanged and settlements are made in cash.

However, the futures market can also be an arena for purchasing physical gold. That is not to suggest that it is the best source of metal for all investors as it may not increase one’s purchasing power. Obtaining gold through the futures market requires a large investment and involves a list of additional costs. The process can be complicated, cumbersome and lengthy, which is why this option is considered best for highly experienced market participants.

What are some alternatives to physical gold?

Purchasing metal is not the only way to gain exposure to physical gold. Indeed, the popularity of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) underscores how easily people can get into the gold market without actually owning physical gold.

Gold ETFs may track gold-focused stocks, or they may track the yellow metal’s price. Investors looking for the closest analog to buying physical gold will likely want to focus on the latter. However, it’s important to be aware that ETFs that follow the gold price are generally not vehicles to acquire gold, even if they are physically backed.

One advantage of gold ETFs is that they can be easier to trade than physical gold. Some investors choose to hold a set amount of physical gold at all times and use ETFs to trade the metal’s ups and downs.

How and when to sell physical gold?

Just as buying gold often provides investors with a pricing wakeup call, investors who decide to sell are sometimes surprised at the prices they receive. That is because the buyback price, or bid, is lower than the asking price. The difference between the two is referred to as the spread, and it is a loss that the seller initially bears.

For example, if an investor pays US$2,022 for a 1 ounce Canadian Maple Leaf and decides to sell it back the same day, the buying price may only be US$1,952.

Furthermore, there are usually other costs involved with selling gold, including shipping, insurance and liquidation fees. Some businesses have minimum purchase requirements, and depending upon payment arrangements, it may be necessary for the investor to pay bank wire fees or postage to receive a check.

Individuals who want to sell their gold quickly may consider “we buy gold” businesses as a convenient alternative. While these businesses can serve as a quick source of liquidity, they are usually not the best option, as their underlying business strategy often involves making lower-than-average offers.

The reality is that, given the spread and the costs associated with acquiring and selling gold, a sharp price move is generally needed to turn a profit. Investors are encouraged to consider building positions in physical gold as a long-term investment, possibly even for retirement savings.

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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