If you're one to follow the gold market, you're aware of one of the great mysteries or oddities that make investors constantly scratch their heads. Why did gold make the famously epic run to the upside, but gold miners did not?
Here's how the numbers look if you're an exchange traded fund (ETF) investor. SPDR Gold Shares (ARCA:GLD) has seen a two-year gain of 23%, but the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (ARCA:GDX) lost 25% of value and the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (ARCA:GDXJ) is down nearly 49%.
What gives? How could the metal be up but the miners pulling it out of the ground be so underground? As with so many "why" questions in the markets, the answer isn't as easy as one would think. Here are a few ideas.
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Company Vs. Commodity
The SPDR Gold Shares ETF holds physical gold in its vaults. In fact, 100,000 gold bars weighing a combined 40 million ounces and worth $70 billion are held in a secret vault somewhere in London, according to CNBC. This allows GLD to track the price of gold without dabbling in futures contracts or any of the producers. It's a pure play on the value of the metal.
That's not true of gold miner ETFs. These funds, much like most other ETFs, have shares of mining companies in their holdings. These companies may or may not be valued correctly by the market. Valuation of these ETFs is based on the value of the companies and investors will only invest in a miner if they believe that the value of gold will continue to move higher.
In order for gold miners to move considerably higher, hedge funds, mutual funds and other "smart money" institutions have to pour money into the funds.
That hasn't happened. Gold analysts, according to Casey Research, have spent the last several years predicting that the price of gold would drop. Since smart money managers rely heavily on research reports, there has been no compelling reason to put money behind the miners.
SEE: Gold ETFs In 2013: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
High Cost of Gold Mining
When an investor considers going long a company, he or she looks at not just the revenue potential but also the costs associated with gaining that revenue. The need for qualified people at a cost efficient price, as well as escalating costs that come with taxes and regulation in certain countries, eat into miners' profits. The cost of developing a mine has also increased substantially, and that's putting pressure on miners.
The ETF Effect
The actual ETFs may also have an effect on the underperformance of gold miners. Why should investors put money to work in a gold miner when they can capture the pure price action of the commodity itself? In the past, before ETFs were an option, investors had few choices; either purchase the physical metal or purchase shares in gold miners. When ETFs gave investors the best of both worlds, money poured out of the miners into ETFs like GLD.
SEE: The Gold Showdown: ETFs Vs. Futures
Will the Mining ETFs Ever be a Buy?
Through all of the pessimism, the value investors are showing up. First, even analysts that for so many years have been gold bears are now predicting higher prices. Casey Research believes that gold could reach $2,300 by January 2014. When the smart money decides that gold will continue higher, money could pour into the underperforming equities, according to insiders.
Finally, as the economy continues to improve and investors see the recovery as a sustained event, the risk-on trade in the gold market may return.
The Bottom Line
ETF investors have numerous choices with gold ETFs, but most concentrate on the gold miners or the commodity. The miners have underperformed the commodity, and that, to value investors, is an opportunity for big profits.
At the time of writing, Tim Parker did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.
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