GLD is one of the most popular ETFs in the world, offering exposure to an asset class that has become increasingly important to the asset allocation process in recent years. GLD can be used in a number of different ways; some may establish short term positions as a way of hedging against equity market volatility, dollar weakness, or inflation. Others may wish to include gold exposure as part of a long-term investment strategy. GLD is a relatively straightforward product; the underlying assets consist of gold bullion stored in secure vaults. As such, the price of this ETF can be expected to move in lock step with spot gold prices. The physically-backed nature of this product eliminates any of the uncertainties introduced through futures-based strategies, though investors also have the option to approach this precious metal through futures-based funds such as UBG and DGL.
The primary alternatives to GLD are other physically-backed gold ETFs, including AGOL, SGOL, and IAU. The first two on that list may appeal to investors looking to vault their gold outside of New York and London; AGOL stores bullion in Singapore, while SGOL's vaults are located in Switzerland. IAU is, in our opinion, represents a better way to play gold through the exchange-traded structure. While the underlying assets are similar and interchangeable, the expense ratios on these two funds are not. IAU is cheaper by 15 basis points; that margin isn't enormous, but is enough to essentially guarantee that GLD will lag behind IAU in terms of performance. Investors in IAU give up very little in the way of liquidity (that fund is massive as well) and will add a few basis points to their bottom lines.
Bigger isn't always better; GLD is certainly an efficient tool for adding gold to a portfolio, but there is a better option out there that should be appealing particularly to cost conscious investors.