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The Best Gold Your Money Can Buy

By Victor German and Igor Zhitnitsky

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The popularity of gold has soared in recent years, as investors fearful of market uncertainties sought the safe haven of the world's oldest form of wealth.

But not all gold investments are created equal, and in this article we'll critically compare the merits of three different ways to expose oneself to the precious metal: exchange-traded funds including SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) and Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX), physical ownership of bullion, and coins.

ETFs: SPDR Gold Trust GLD is perhaps the most popular index among those looking for gold exposure, but it isn't the only one. Gold miner ETFs GDX and Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners (GDXJ) are two alternative indices tied to the performance of companies involved in gold mining, and so offer an additional way to bet on the precious metal.

Long story short, the bottom line is GLD wins in the long run in this comparison, with GDX a sensible alternative in only some specific short-term scenarios.

While it makes sense that when gold goes up miners should similarly do well, unfortunately that basic premise doesn't hold up well practice. GDX and GDXJ tend to consistently underperform GLD, and are generally more volatile. The fortunes of miners are not as closely tied to the value of gold as one would expect, because of exposure to a variety of additional risks.

Whatever the fundamental reasons, the chart below is all the empirical evidence an investor needs to conclude that if you're bullish on gold and want to go the ETF route, GLD wins hands down over miners.

With that in mind, we also note that because of recent slides in gold prices and the emerging perception that miners may run into operating problems, GDX and GDXJ may be oversold at current prices. If gold is to start a rally sparked by the Federal Reserve's announcement last Wednesday, the two gold miner ETFs may well emerge as winners in the short term.

Bullion: An alternative to GLD is the ownership of actual gold bullion. By owning physical gold, one can avoid the 0.4% annual management fee built into the ETF, as well as the inherent counterparty risk in a derivative security like GLD.

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