Last month's interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve appears to have sparked concerns about inflation among the gold bugs. Funds that invest in gold, a traditional hedge against rising consumer prices and general financial market turmoil, took in roughly $1.2 billion in September. But the overwhelming bulk of the cash went to a single exchange-traded fund, the streetTracks Gold Shares ( GLD) ETF. The fund, which holds almost 600 tons of gold bullion, took in an additional $1.017 billion during last month alone, according to new data from the Boston-based Financial Research Corp. During a month in which credit woes weighed heavily on market sentiment and the U.S. central bank cut its fed funds target by 50 basis points, gold prices, a traditional bellwether of inflation, jumped more than 10% to $743 an ounce. Although the market's gyrations prompted gold-hungry investors to snap up streetTracks Gold Shares, the same couldn't be said for the rest of the sector. Collectively, all other U.S. specialty precious metals mutual funds and ETFs took in a paltry $49 million in net new funds for the same month, according to the FRC statistics. Twelve funds added a total of $222 million, while 12 others saw an outflow totaling $173 million. Sonya Morris, editor of the Morningstar ETF Investor newsletter, says the flood of cash into streetTracks' product was likely caused by institutional investors. Historically, mutual funds have attracted more interest from retail investors, whereas institutional investors such as pension funds and hedge funds have typically favored ETFs, although she says that is changing somewhat.
But the popularity of the streetTracks ETF also stands in stark contrast to its similar rival, the iShares Comex Gold Trust ( IAU) -- it holds only bars of bullion in secure vaults -- which actually lost cash, with about $87 million in redemptions, the data show. Ron Delegge, editor of the San Diego-based ETFGuide.com, says the iShares Comex Gold Trust has suffered from being a "Johnny-come-lately," to the bullion ETF party. It kicked off in January 2005, about two months after the streetTracks product, and as a result it has never attracted as much attention, he says. Morris points to another difference between the streetTracks product and the mutual funds: "There is no mutual fund that provides direct access to the metal." Mutual funds in the sector typically own stocks in mining companies, but some have a portion of their assets in bullion, as well. (Some are also in
assets unrelated to gold .) Also, through August, gold stocks, as represented by the Amex Gold Bugs Index, had actually underperformed the metal, which may have deterred some small investors. Even the mutual fund that added the most in new investment dollars, the $1.8 billion ( OPGSX) Oppenheimer Gold & Special Minerals Fund , took in only a modest $52 million. The next favorite of the month, ( VGPMX) Vanguard Precious Metals and Mining , which manages $4.4 billion, added $48 million in new cash. The mutual fund with the highest redemptions was the $1.1 billion ( ACGGX) American Century Global Gold , with an outflow of $21 million.