Investing in Physical Gold

Gold as a secure investment, with options for NRIs, presented by Inri Gold Investment platform.

June 2, 2024
6 mins read
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Gold is widely recognized as a safe-haven investment, valued for its ability to provide stability and security in times of economic uncertainty. Its long-standing reputation as a reliable store of wealth makes it highly sought-after during periods of heightened volatility and geopolitical tensions.

Amidst increasing interest rates and a dwindling U.S. banking sector, gold offers protection against macro volatility. The recent 500 basis point increase in the policy rate by the Federal Reserve, the fastest rate of hikes since 1980, along with the failures of SVB and concerns surrounding the demise of First Republic Bank, has prompted a flight towards safe-haven assets.

As a result, the price of gold reached its highest level since August 2020, soaring to $2,055.70. U.S. gold futures have also experienced significant gains of 12.98% over the past 6 months. In a span of 5 years, gold has outperformed traditional safe-haven assets (the Japanese Yen and U.S. Treasuries) and even major equity indices, with spot futures prices increasing by 41.36%.

Gold has proven to be a reliable choice for investors seeking stability and security during uncertain times.

How Can I Invest In Gold?

Investing in gold requires an understanding of the differences between physical gold and gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or mutual funds. It is important to evaluate the downsides and benefits of the two investment methodologies.

In this blog, we will analyze gold returns adjusting for associated costs, and highlight why gold funds are a compelling investment choice. We will discuss how Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) can conveniently invest in gold funds to capitalize on the advantages they provide.

Key Differences: Physical Gold vs. Gold Funds

Physical gold involves purchasing coins, bars, or jewelry made of precious metals. Gold offers tangible ownership, along with associated costs such as storage, insurance, and higher initial expenses.

In comparison, gold ETFs are a convenient and cost-effective method to invest in gold. These funds trade on stock exchanges and invest in gold-related assets: futures and options contracts, mining stocks, and sovereign gold bonds (SGBs).

When distinguishing between physical gold and gold funds, below are the fundamental points to evaluate:

  • Ownership Structures:Physical gold investors own the metal directly, while ETF investors hold shares representing gold assets without owning physical gold.
  • Cost and Fees:Physical gold has higher initial costs (manufacturing, storage, insurance), while gold funds are less expensive but may involve brokerage fees.
  • Market Dynamics:Physical gold has longer selling times initially but becomes highly liquid, while gold funds offer easy trading with low fees for liquidity.
  • Investment Size:Physical gold has higher fees and premiums for smaller investments, while gold funds offer simple and inexpensive trading for smaller amounts.
  • Performance Factors:Physical gold’s value fluctuates based on supply and demand, while gold funds’ value is influenced by the ETF’s performance tied to the gold market.

Comparing Performances: Net of Associated Costs

We can compare the historical returns of gold ETFs to the prices of physical gold. We will use the SPDR Gold Shares, the largest gold ETF, to represent gold funds and gold spot prices to estimate the prices of physical gold.

  • Other gold funds may have higher/lower expense ratios.
  • * Bid-and-ask spread is the difference between the buying price (bid) and the selling price (ask).
  • **They represent a significant cost, especially when purchasing gold jewelry.

Top Gold Funds to Invest in India

Below are the top 5 Gold ETFs ranked by 5-year returns for a lump-sum investment:

Axis Gold Fund

  • Yearly Return: 13.37%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.5%
  • AUM (cr): ₹316

Kotak Gold Fund

  • Yearly Return: 13.36%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.5%
  • AUM (cr): ₹1,534

SBI Gold Fund

  • Yearly Return: 13.25%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.42%
  • AUM (cr): ₹1,366

Nippon India Gold Savings Fund

  • Yearly Return: 12.94%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.35%
  • AUM (cr): ₹1,556

HDFC Gold Fund

  • Yearly Return: 12.91%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.5%
  • AUM (cr): ₹1,542

Other honorary mentions are ICICI Prudential Regular Gold Savings Funds (FOF) and Aditya Birla Sun Life Gold Fund. Note that the availability of different gold funds may vary based on geographical location. Check with your investment platforms to determine the specific gold funds accessible in your area.

Considerations for NRIs

For Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), gold mutual funds eliminate the need to open a demat or trading account. Investing in gold funds for NRIs is convenient due to the following factors:

  • KYC Compliance:NRIs can easily fulfill the Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements for investing in gold funds.
  • NRE/NRO Account:NRIs can use their Non-Resident External (NRE) or Non-Resident Ordinary (NRO) accounts for seamless transactions and investment in gold funds.
  • No Demat or Trading Account:NRIs are not required to have a demat or trading account to invest in gold funds, simplifying the investment process.
  • Easy Access:NRIs can invest in gold funds through various online platforms and financial institutions, providing convenient access to investment opportunities.

These funds eliminate the purity issues, making charges, and storage hassles that often come with physical gold investments. NRIs can invest in gold ETFs, a straightforward, low-cost, and accessible investment option.

Taxation Differences

Physical gold is more tax efficient than gold funds, especially for those in the higher income tax brackets.

A few points to note:

  • The tax on physical gold for NRIs is subject to the same rules as for Indian residents.
  • Converting physical to electronic gold or vice versa is not a transfer. No capital gains tax from this conversion.

Another Reason to Invest in Gold: Robust Performance Amidst Inflationary Periods

With the U.S. experiencing high inflation rates, it is helpful to analyze the performance of gold from 1973 to 1979, when the U.S. experienced significant inflation with an average annual rate of around 8.8%. During this time, gold saw a remarkable annual return of 35%. This connection is logical as inflation often devalues the dollar, leading investors to seek commodities for protecting their purchasing power. Gold outperformed stocks, bonds, real estate, and other traditional investments in the 1970s, soaring by an astonishing 2,300%.

Even during the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), gold became a robust long-term equity hedge. Prices increased by 50.6% post-GFC and outperformed the S&P 500 by 37%.

Finally, gold funds provide valuable diversification benefits to investment portfolios. Compared to other commodities, real estate, and private equity since 2009, gold demonstrates a lower correlation with the equity-based MSCI World Index. With a historically low correlation to equities and bonds, gold serves as an efficient diversification tool.


Gold remains a sought-after safe-haven asset during inflation, economic turmoil, and geopolitical concerns. Its resilience in market crises makes it advantageous for modern portfolios, assisting in risk management. While physical gold involves additional expenses, NRIs can invest in gold funds without a Demat account. ETFs and mutual funds are cost-effective and convenient options for long-term investors.

Inri, backed by Y Combinator, is an investment platform dedicated to NRIs & OCIs to invest in Indian markets. Inri is like Wealthfront for India, making investing in India fast and hassle-free.

This article does not provide any investment advice. Please consult your financial advisor before investing.

Carrying physical gold to India is subject to Legal and Customs Regulations. Here's your guide on how to navigate through these complexities.
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