Gold ETFs: Were fund houses pushing the right product?
Moneylife Digital Team 18 April 2013

Gold ETFs witnessed massive inflows over the last few years. These inflows came in from ETFs launched by just 14 fund houses. If gold goes down further, how would these fund houses face the savers who led to believe that gold ETFs are safe? Here is a live example of why savers end up mistrusting financial services companies

With the recent crash in gold prices would the interest in gold exchange traded funds (ETFs) fade now? Most certainly investors would think twice as over the past year the price of gold ETFs has gone down by more than 8% and as much as 13% in the past three months. In the last three days ETFs have crashed by nearly 8%. Gold ETFs have always been a risky idea not only because gold is a purely speculative product—it neither generates income nor it is clear under what circumstances it creates wealth. Gold ETFs are gold acting as stock and they would naturally behave like one—turning volatile and even going down for months together of gold prices decline. If so, those who have invested in gold ETFs thinking that they have invested in a safe product will be in for a rude shock. The question is, did not fund companies know this essential flaw in gold ETFs? Why did they launch them?

We have always brought out a simple fact of the fund management business: their income is fixed and dependent on the amount of money they manage. The amount of money they manage is dependent on the number of schemes they launch and when they launch. Interestingly, fund houses launch the largest number of schemes when a particular investment idea is hot: This is why we have 19 infrastructure schemes. When equity schemes witnessed a rally post 2003, we saw fund houses rushing to launch new fund offers. Nearly 200 different equity schemes were launched during the period from January 2003 to December 2007. Even in the five-year period post December 2007 up to December 2012 we saw nearly 100 equity schemes being launched.

Gold has been hot for a few years now and no wonder fund companies jumped in to offer gold ETFs. But it is instructive that many houses have avoided gold ETFs too. Out of the 40+ fund houses 14 have launched gold exchange traded funds.

From April 2010 to March 2012 saw massive inflows in gold ETFs. A majority of the gold ETFs were launched post March 2010. Gold ETFs in FY11 and FY12 saw an addition of over 3 lakh folios bringing in a net inflow of nearly Rs6,000 crore. This was at a time when equity mutual fund schemes were losing folios and facing high redemptions. Over the two financial years, equity schemes witnessed an outflow of over Rs13,000 crore and lost nearly 35 lakh folios.

Schemes like Goldman Sachs Gold BeES, R* Shares Gold ETF, SBI Gold ETS and Kotak Gold ETF currently have the largest corpus going above Rs1,000 crore. However, on the list are Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund, HDFC Mutual Fund, ICICI Mutual Fund and Reliance Mutual Fund. These fund houses have amassed a large corpus in their equity schemes and debt schemes. Gold ETFs seemed an attractive proposition as well to them. Some have gone on to launch gold savings schemes (gold mutual fund schemes which invest in gold ETFs) so that investors could skip the exchange route. It is surprising to see Quantum Mutual Fund join the gold rush, as it always promotes itself as pro-investor. It possibly does not understand that gold ETFs is a flawed product.

If gold is supposed to be a must-have asset class, acting as a hedge against inflation, why have so many fund houses, especially the large ones, abstained from launching gold schemes? In our view, it would reflect commendable clarity on their part that gold ETFs are not products for the masses. Top fund houses that have not launched gold ETFs include IDFC Mutual Fund, Fidelity Mutual Fund (the assets are now owned by L&T Mutual Fund) and Franklin Templeton.

According to data by Association of Mutual Fund in India (AMFI), the growth in the number of folios of gold ETFs from September 2011 to September 2012 was a mere 15% from 4.12 lakh folios to 4.75 lakh folios during these 12 months. This is highly subdued as compared with 75% growth in the number of retail folios registered from September 2010 to September 2011 period. Over the six month period, from September 2012 to March 2013, the number of folios grew by under 20% to 5.69 lakh folios. Surprisingly these folios come from just 14 schemes.

Siddharth Biswal
1 decade ago
Just because something is going down is not bad per se.Gold fundamentals are intact but inverse relation may not be that much proportionate now because of mkt perception to safety.This is in fact an opportunity to invest when sentiments are down.If you have a time frame of 1 year dont invest but if you are planning for retirement it is good enough to be 15-20% in your portfolio.It may not have a income generating value but till Govt prints money rampantly & central govts of countries hoard gold it will never lose its attraction.What the Govt preaches it itself doesn't follows.So looking at the bigger picture this is a chance coming up your way if you have the courage to go through a tumultous ride.But that's what differentiates an intelligent investor who dont have a herd mentality.
1 decade ago
There is no better option than FD which are TARGET of FINANCE-MINISTER is to DIMINISH rewards and divert to GREED like SHARE-BAZ.AR.
1 decade ago
Once Warren Buffet said Gold doesnt earn interest and doesn't produce anything. Now everybody in this world has this wisdom. But one should always analyse the context before arriving at any conclusion. Buffet is smart, knowledgeable and experienced enough to identify good investment opportunities outside gold. But for people who cannot do that, it is not as bad an investment as it sounds. Here are the reasons why gold has been precious since time immemorial and why it will always remain so. 1. The world trade shall always need some common currency. Nothing can serve that purpose better than Gold in a hypothetical but probable situation of absence of paper currency. Even when united nations was formed and dollar was accepted as global currency, the US backed the dollar by Gold only. Reasons of gold being the most appropriate global currency: Gold has a unique property of not losing its quality over large periods of time i.e. thousands of years. It is easily storable and could be moulded easily to transport from one place to another without any change in its quality. Because of this gold has been used as trading currency even thousands of years ago. This is the only currency(object) which you could be sure of will survive even after 5000 years with the same quality(as found in pyramids also). 2. Ornamentation is an integral part of humans. The money spent on gold ornaments doesnt go waste since as an asset or as a piece of beautification it can be passed from generation to generation. 3. It is divisible. you can buy or sell as much you want without losing the value on the balance left over gold.
The idea of writing this is not to advocate blind purchase of gold but only to share views that it is not as useless as it is written about. There is a merit in purchasing gold. Prices of gold may fluctuate or stagnate for years but that doesnt diminish the utility of gold.
1 decade ago
The fund houses that you have named Franklin, IDFC etc which are Large as per your understanding are 1/3rd in size of the AMCs which have launched Gold ETFs(check AMFI figures). On what basis are you saying they are large? You are just trying to make the issue sensational.
1 decade ago
Just becoz gold price has crashed doesnt mean gold etf is a flawed product. Every product has a purpose. If it is bought for same purpose then it is fine otherwise useless. Gold etf allows one to buy gold in electronic form. So if one wishes to buy gold, he has two choices-physical or ETF. what is wrong about it? Gold ETF has always been pushed as a replacement of physical gold which it actually does.
Every product goes through positive and negative cycles. That doesnt make every product flawed.
By the way, would you disclose what is the qualification and experience of the team writing such articles? and also what kind of investments this team does which others can take guidance from. Investment products which are perfect as per your understanding.
1 decade ago
The most frequently learnt lesson in investing is... anything that is popular is seldom a good investment.

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