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Outlook for Gold ETFs

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Now that the Olympics have ended, the most economically minded winning athletes are looking to convert their gold metals into cash through endorsement deals.

Many ETF investors, however, may be wondering whether now is a good time to ring the cash register on their gold funds or initiate new positions in the metal.

Gold has gained attention and accessibility as an investment option via ETFs, and the metal is valued because of its usefulness as a portfolio diversifier and its ability to outperform the stock market for long periods at a time.

In 2009, gold prices rose 24%, while they remain essentially unchanged since the start of 2010. As gold trades sideways, investors are left deciding whether now is the time to cash out, sell short, or buy long. Before looking at the outlook and strategy, let's go over the best fund choices.

In 2010, the most popularly traded gold ETF is still SPDR Gold Shares (GLD), a physically backed fund that is up 2% year to date. GLD is a great way to hop on the gold bandwagon and investors who do so are in good company with current holders such as investor George Soros, hedge fund Paulson and Co., and China's sovereign wealth fund.

Another popular physically backed option is iShares COMEX Gold Trust (IAU), which has the same 0.4% expense ratio as GLD and is also up 2% year to date. Less popular, but still very liquid and featuring a slightly lower expense ratio is the ETFS Physical Swiss Gold Shares (SGOL).

There is also the Sprott Physical Gold Trust (PHYS), which was launched last Friday and trades at about one tenth the price of IAU, GLD, or SGOL, making it appealing to smaller investors. The expense ratio is capped at 0.65%, which is higher than the other three gold funds, and the PHYS prospectus touts potential tax benefits for U.S. investors in the fund.

As an alternative to physically backed gold ETFs, investors can use gold-miner ETFs that feature companies like Barrick (ABX - Get Report), Newmont (NEM - Get Report), AngloGold Ashanti (AU) and Goldcorp (GG - Get Report).

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