Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What happened when I bought PHAU gold ETF?

I paid £907.78 for 8 PHAU shares (ETF Securities Physical Gold ) at 11.20am on 22 September 2011. This physical gold exchange traded fund is valued in dollars. When I bought it my pounds were converted into dollars by my broker Hargreaves Lansdown and used to pay for the shares. But the price I paid in dollars was not mentioned anywhere on the contract note from Hargreaves Lansdown and neither was the exchange rate my pounds were converted at.

This meant that I could not see how much I had actually paid for the gold and how many dollars my pounds had bought in order to make that payment.

I'm a novice as a gold ETF investor but I would have thought an investor should have this information, so I asked for it. Hargreaves Lansdown staff were helpful but, at first, weren't sure I'd be able to get an answer. However I did get a reply by email saying that all the figures had been supplied in sterling because all the trades were settled in sterling.

But Hargreaves also added that the "dollar price for your purchase of eight shares in ETFS Physical Gold (PHAU) was $172.734 per share, which converts to £111.9787."

That's an exchange rate of 172.734/111.9787 which equates to $1.54 per £1 which is pretty much what I worked out the day before yesterday.

I'm not yet sure how useful it is for me to know the dollar value of the gold or the dollar value of my pounds. But it feels like I should know this and be able to evaluate its usefulness for myself.

ETF Securities seems to agree. It doesn't say much about currency in PHAU's prospectus other than this pretty obvious point:

"Currency: Bullion prices are generally quoted in US dollars and the price of Metal Securities will be quoted on the London Stock Exchange in US dollars. To the extent that a Security Holder values Metal Securities in another currency, that value will be affected by changes in the exchange rate between the US dollar and that other currency."

The impression I got from Hargreaves Lansdown was that the conversion into pounds and dollars was automatic - I wasn't sure if ETFS was responsible but I think it is Hargreaves that does this bit

I must have got the wrong end of stick and maybe it's done by Hargreaves at the moment of buying or selling - but I don't know.

The other mystery is the spread which didn't look at when I bought the shares - there was quite a short space in which I had say accept the price I was offered and I didn't think to look. So I don't know, if I had decided to sell my PHAU shares straight away, how much would I have lost just on the difference between the price I bought at, and the price at which I could sell back to market makers.

I took a look a the PHAU page on the London Stock Exchange but this said the spread at market close on Wednesday was a massive 3.2% (a bid of $156.5 and an offer of $161.5) and I think it must have been talking about something else.

I had a look at the spread this morning at 8.28am on the Hargreaves Lansdown page for PHAU and it showed a much lower spread: the bid $161.42 and $161.66 offer on Hargreaves Lansdown's site. (Maybe the LSE figures were daily highs and lows)

Apparently the spreads for the £ pound denominated gold ETF - which goes under a PHGP ticker - are wider. I'll have a look later, but I'm not yet clear on how to make knowledge of spreads useful to me.

I'm thinking that there will be times when spreads widen and when they narrow and I want to trade when they are narrow - but I don't know if these changes are significant enough for me to bother worrying about them. And, because I didn't look when I bought the shares, I'm not sure if the bid and offer price were shown - and if that was in £ or $ - but I'll have a look.

At the moment I am still in the process of understanding what I've bought but at least it's distracting me from the near 10% loss since I bought it.

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