Gold continues to offer good returns, and investors who are interested in owning gold may consider buying a gold exchange-traded fund (ETFs). These funds are managed by gold experts, so you stand a better chance of making money than you would on your own. That said, the price of gold will always affect gold ETFs.

We have chosen the top five gold ETFs based on net assets. Every one of these picks has turned in positive returns year to date. None of them pays a dividend. Read the descriptions carefully, because each of these ETFs has different types of expenses. All figures are current as of August 9, 2017.

1. SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)

This fund buys gold bullion. The only time it sells gold is to pay expenses and honor redemptions. Because of the ownership of bullion, this fund is extremely sensitive to the price of gold and will follow gold price trends closely.

One upside to owning the bars is that no one can loan them. Another upside is that each share of this fund represents more gold than in other funds that don’t buy physical gold.

The downside is taxes. The IRS considers gold a collectible, and taxes on long-term gains are high.

  • Avg. Volume: 6,793,977
  • Net Assets: $32.26 billion
  • YTD Return: 10.16%
  • Expense Ratio (net): 0.40%

2. iShares Gold Trust (IAU)

This is another fund that buys physical gold. The fund incurs expenses for transportation, warehousing and insuring gold. IAU keeps its gold in vaults scattered around the planet. Interestingly, the fund does not try to profit from the gold by selling it when the price goes up. Instead, fund managers consider the fund a way for investors to buy and hold gold bullion. This makes the fund very stable.

Because of the low expenses for the fund, investors have a cheap way to buy and manage gold in a way they could not do by themselves.

Owning this fund is considered owning a collectible by the IRS, and it taxes the holdings accordingly. And those taxes are high. In the beginning, one share of the fund equaled 1/100th of an ounce of gold. This actually goes down as time passes because expenses have to be figured into the cost of a share.

  • Avg. Volume: 7,239,601
  • Net Assets: $8.59 billion
  • YTD Return: 10.29%
  • Expense Ratio (net): 0.25%

3. ETFS Physical Swiss Gold (SGOL)

SGOL stores gold in a vault in Zurich. Owners of the fund shares own part of that gold. This fund is very liquid, meaning you can buy and sell shares easily. This allows you to take profits easily or buy in when you want to buy the dips.

The primary difference between SGOL and other funds that hold physical gold is storage. SGOL stores its gold exclusively in Swiss vaults.

  • Avg. Volume 34,352
  • Net Assets $1.02 billion
  • YTD Return 10.21%
  • Expense Ratio (net) 0.39%

4. PowerShares DB Gold ETF (DGL)

DGL does not buy gold. It tracks the DBIQ Optimum Yield Gold Index Excess Return index. It does this by buying futures contracts. It should be noted that investors in this fund receive a K-1 form during tax season, meaning they must pay taxes as partners.

In addition, the fund’s managers must constantly fight contango, which is a situation where the futures contract is higher than the future spot price of gold. Investors lose money because the futures contract must be adjusted downward to match the spot price.

  • Avg. Volume: 88,615
  • Net Assets: $153.42 million
  • YTD Return: 9.29%
  • Expense Ratio (net): 0.77%

5. VanEck Merk Gold Trust (OUNZ)

OUNZ buys physical gold. The unique feature of this fund is that investors can redeem their shares and receive actual gold. Investors can redeem as little as one troy ounce.

When investors redeem their shares, they must pay a fee for taking the gold out of storage. The fee can be a per-ounce charge or a minimum fee. The fund charges whichever fee is greater.

  • Avg. Volume: 25,617
  • Net Assets: $129.65 million
  • YTD Return: 10.01%
  • Expense Ratio (net): 0.00%

The Bottom Line

Gold must always be considered a speculative investment. Investors usually choose ETFs to spread risk among several assets. However, some of these funds invest exclusively in gold, so gains or losses in those cases are tied directly to the price of gold.

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