2 Gold Miners ETFs to Watch

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the U.S. debt ceiling drama again taking center stage this week, safe haven asset classes continue to fall into favor with retail and institutional investors.

Gold, in particular, has generated mass appeal as prices ascend through the $1,600 per ounce level, locking in all-time highs.

With this rise, investors may be tempted to dive headlong into physically-backed ETF products like iShares Gold Trust ( IAU) or SPDR Gold Shares ( GLD). However, I encourage investors to keep an eye on other gold-related exchange traded products as well.

Gold miners, for instance, have become an interesting corner of the markets to keep an eye on as the defensive precious metal remains in the spotlight. Investors can take aim at the companies responsible for unearthing this yellow metal using funds such as the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF ( GDX) or Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF ( GDXJ) (GDXJ).

While they lagged the physical asset during much of the first half of the year, in recent weeks the gold mining industry appears to have found some footing.

Year to date, bullion products like IAU are still handedly beating out GDX. However, the miner-backed GDX managed to gain impressive ground in July, allowing the fund to outpace IAU over the past 30-day period. During this timeframe, GDX was up nearly 15% while IAU jumped less than 5%.

Its performance during July was impressive. However, the party does not appear to be over for gold miners or GDX. In comments made to Reuters at the start of this week, a fund manager from Franklin Templeton highlighted qualities of the gold mining industry that could help it continue to outperform bullion in the weeks and months ahead. Specifically, the manager noted that sky-high gold prices have allowed producers to generate cash that can be used to expand operations, and boost dividends.

While record-breaking gold prices will keep miners buoyed in the coming days, the industry could get an additional boost from this week's earnings calendar. During the week, investors will gain ample insight into the current state and future outlook for the gold industry when Goldcorp ( GG), Newmont Mining ( NEM) and Barrick Gold ( ABX) step up to announce their quarterly earnings numbers. GDX will be heavily influenced by the performances from these three firms. GG, NEM, and ABX are the fund's top three index components and together account for over 35% of its total assets.

Gold miners are showing strength, but this does not mean that investors should abandon exposure to physical gold holdings. On the contrary, I have long viewed bullion-backed products like IAU and GLD as portfolio staples. A product like GDX is best utilized as a tactical compliment to these long-term holdings.

In early June, I encouraged investors to avoid overlooking the gold miners, noting that during the latter half of the year this slice of the gold industry could be in for standout strength. As we have seen in recent weeks, this forecast has begun to show promise. Looking ahead, I encourage investors to keep a close eye on GDX.

Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management was long iShares Gold Trust.