Bets on Gold Miner ETFs Show There's Greed in the Fear Trade

  • VanEck Vectors Junior fund sees record inflows in February
  • ETF has attacted more assets than its conservative peers

Even in the fear trade, there’s a whole lot of greed.

While February is the shortest month of the year, inflows into the VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners exchange-traded fund (GDXJ) have already set a record at almost $926 million.

That’s about 60 percent more than its much larger, more conservative peer -- VanExck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX) -- had attracted this month through Feb. 24. Junior miners are seen as riskier because of their smaller, and in some cases, uncertain asset bases. The Junior Miners ETF has about $5.7 billion in assets, compared with $11.9 billion in the older Gold Miners ETF.

"Gold-based products are more of an inverse fear trade," said Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF research at CFRA in New York. "Miners are a beneficiary of that, but the money tends to focus more on GDX."

Gold mining companies have rallied along with other precious metal as real interest rates, which jumped after the U.S. election, have been retreating. Strategists at UBS Group AG have predicted that rising market-based measures of inflation expectations will push real rates lower and propel gold toward $1,300 per ounce.

Among U.S. equity ETFs that track sectors or factors, GDXJ has taken in the fourth-most inflows in 2017, trailing only the Vanguard Value ETF, Financial Select SPDR Fund, and Vanguard REIT ETF, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

And this junior miners product isn’t the only high-risk way to play a gold recovery that’s captured investors’ attention in 2017. The $1.2 billion Direxion Daily Junior Gold Miners Index Bull 3x ETF (JNUG) -- which promises a 300 percent return on the index it uses,
provides a levered bet on these junior gold miners -- has seen volumes and call options explode in recent months.

"It’s been shown that when gold miners are in rally mode, juniors do a lot better," said Eric Balchunas, ETF analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. "People putting money into junior miners and JNUG -- they’re speculating, they’re trading -- this is not a long-term allocation."