The latest “safe haven” for investors appears to be, once again, gold. But this time, the avenue they’re taking to get the bullion into their portfolios is the exchange-traded fund.

BlackRock, the nation’s largest exchange-traded fund purveyor, said Wednesday that exchange-traded funds that invest in gold generated $4.8 billion in net new assets in November. That meant gold outperformed any other category of ETF, including fund that invest in bonds or stocks.

The rush to gold reflected increasing investor concern that gold is a safer place to put money than currencies or sovereign debt, given the European debt crisis and the high deficit and debt levels in the United States, according to Kevin Feldman, managing director for the iShares line of exchange-traded products from BlackRock.

The movement into the traditional counterweight to more intangible investments reflects also an alternative to betting on strong growth in securities such as stocks that are largely dependent on turnarounds in national economies, at this point.

The split seems to indicate “you either believe in gold or goldilocks,’’ Feldman said.

Buying a gold ETF doesn’t mean an investor is actually buying gold. Or that the fund itself is, either.

The vast majority of gold ETFs buy and physically hold bars of gold. A minority invest in futures contracts. Physically-backed gold ETFs more closely track the spot price of gold.

In the last 10 years, the price of an ounce of gold has escalated from $274.10 an ounce to $1,708.45, an annual growth rate of 20.0 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average of publicly traded U.S. stocks has gone from 10,021.57 at the end of 2001, to 12,113.58 today. That’s an annual growth rate of 1.9 percent.

All told, investors stood pat on exchange-traded funds. Worldwide, ETF assets under management fell to $1,543 million in November, from $1,578 million in October.

The slight drop followed an inflow of $26.5 billion in October, according to BlackRock.

The strongest ETF category for the full year has been fixed income products. Assets under management in that category have gone up $43.7 billion. Net new assets of $43.6 billion have come in.

By contrast, $41.6 billion has come into North American exchange-traded equity funds. But with the values of equities falling, the increase in assets under management in that category has been $24.6 billion.

All told, fixed income products have taken in 31.6% of new assets flowing into the exchange-traded funds industry this year.

Tom Steinert-Threlkeld writes for Securities Technology Monitor.




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