Why Does Physical Gold Cost More Than the Spot Price?

As a passionate investor in the world of gold investment, you might have come across a puzzling phenomenon – the price of physical gold often exceeds the spot price. It’s a concept that prompts curiosity, raises questions, and warrants exploration. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the factors contributing to this apparent anomaly in the world of gold investment.

The Basics of Spot Price and Physical Gold

Before we embark on our exploration, let’s grasp the concept of the spot price. This represents the prevailing market price for substantial quantities of commodities like gold or silver, as traded on commodity exchanges. Yet, it’s vital to recognize that this price doesn’t encapsulate the ancillary expenses tied to securing the physical precious metals, such as shipping, commission, or insurance.

Physical gold, on the other hand, encompasses tangible gold products like coins and bars. These products are not just representations of gold’s value but actual assets you can hold in your hand. Interestingly, the spot price that we often hear about pertains to significant amounts of precious metals, often in the form of large bars like the 100 oz gold or (5) 1,000 oz silver bars. These bars, however, aren’t typically accessible to individual investors. Instead, they tend to be held in distant depositories. This separation between theoretical spot price and tangible gold leads to the difference in prices.

Tracing Historical Shifts

To fully comprehend the nuances of gold pricing, it’s essential to trace historical shifts. Prior to 1975, gold ownership was a privilege restricted for Americans, confined to gold coins. However, after legalization, the pricing paradigm shifted to platforms like the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and Commodity Exchange, Inc. (COMEX), owned by major American bullion and investment banks.

This shift in pricing platforms marked a significant transition in market control. Gold futures contracts for 100-ounce bars became the focal point of trading in New York, moving the action away from the network of coin collectors and shops into the realm of institutional giants. Yet, this transition came with a notable challenge – the contracts often exceeded the available physical bars for fulfillment.

Factors Influencing the Premium

Quality and Purity

The purity of gold significantly impacts its market value. High-quality, pure gold is sought after for its lasting value. However, ensuring such purity involves careful refining processes that contribute to production costs, leading to a higher premium for pure gold products.

Collectability is another driving force behind the premium associated with certain physical gold products. Coins with unique designs, historical significance, and rarity can fetch higher prices due to their additional collector’s value. This intrinsic worth goes beyond the gold’s weight alone.

Minting, Production and Refining

Raw gold extracted from mines isn’t the final product you see in the form of coins or bars. Minting coins and producing bars come with their own set of costs. Government and private mints play a pivotal role in the transformation from bulk bars to tangible coins and rounds. They procure these large bars from the market or refiners, and then meticulously craft these raw materials into coins and rounds. The process involves minting coins with the appropriate fineness, followed by stamping them under significant pressure, often ranging from 100 to 150 tons. Refining this raw material into market-ready products involves intricate processes and additional expenses.

Mining and refining gold isn’t a straightforward process. Fluctuating costs of labor, equipment and environmental considerations impact production expenses. These factors, in turn, affect the premium associated with physical gold.

Logistics and Transportation

A noteworthy insight lies in the fact that the large bars, which the spot price is tied to, are not readily accessible to individual investors. Instead, these bars are typically held in depositories that might be distant from the average investor. Hence, transportation, insurance and security are vital components. Transporting precious metals safely incurs costs, contributing to the additional amount you pay above the spot price.

Economic Factors

The first piece of the puzzle lies in the intricate dance of supply and demand. Physical gold availability can be influenced by mining outputs, geopolitical factors, and even changes in consumer behavior. When demand outstrips supply, the premium over the spot price tends to rise. Moreover, when you’re buying or selling physical gold, you’re not just dealing with the metal itself. Regulated Gold Dealer commissions and storage fees also play a role. These expenses are factored into the premium above the spot price.

Inflation and Global Trends

The realm of precious metals isn’t isolated from broader economic trends. The Keynesian economic model adopted by many governments embraces inflation as a tool for stimulating growth. While this approach nurtures economic prosperity, it also casts a shadow of uncertainty over the stability of paper money. In such a landscape, physical gold emerges as a stalwart guardian against devaluation.

The canvas of global currency dynamics adds another layer to the saga. As nations explore alternatives to the U.S. Dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the allure of tangible assets gains momentum. The dwindling purchasing power of the dollar amplifies the appeal of gold, silver, and platinum as safeguarding instruments. This global perspective weaves into the intricate tapestry of gold pricing.

The Essence of Gold Pricing

At the heart of gold pricing lies a balance between the “free market” and the “regulated” futures market. While the spot price offers a glimpse into the market value before factoring in commissions and delivery, the true essence of pricing emerges from the intricacies of the retail cash market. This includes the multifaceted costs of production, distribution, and other associated expenses.

Paying a premium of 5 to 10% above the spot price might seem like an extra burden for investors. However, it’s essential to grasp the underlying rationale. The spot price serves as a reference point, yet it doesn’t encapsulate the entire spectrum of factors that contribute to the final cost of physical gold products. This understanding allows us to appreciate the intricacies of gold pricing.

Envisioning the Future

The future unfolds with promises of heightened demand and a growing distrust in derivative contracts. As more individuals seek the security of tangible assets, the demand for coins and bars might reach unprecedented levels. This surge could potentially lead to shortages and substantial price hikes, shaping the narrative of gold investment for years to come.

As we navigate the labyrinthine landscape of gold pricing, one truth emerges – informed decisions are rooted in understanding. The complex interplay between the spot price, premiums, and real-world factors creates a mosaic that requires patient contemplation. Whether you’re a seasoned investor or someone embarking on this journey for the first time, the key is to remain curious, observant, and prepared to adapt as the dynamics evolve.


Q : Why does physical gold cost more than the spot price?

A : The premium above the spot price encompasses production, distribution, and other expenses associated with procuring and delivering tangible precious metals.

Q : How does inflation impact the value of precious metals?

A : The erosion of paper money’s value due to inflation underscores the enduring value of physical gold, silver, and platinum as a hedge against devaluation.

Q : How do global currency dynamics influence the demand for precious metals?

A : The evolving dynamics of international currencies amplify the allure of tangible assets like gold, silver, and platinum, driving increased demand and shifting investment strategies.

Tim Schmidt


Tim Schmidt is an Entrepreneur who has covered retirement investing since 2012. He started IRA Investing to share his expertise in using his Self-Directed IRA for alternative investments. His views on retirement investing have been highlighted in USA Today, Business Insider, Tech Times, and more. He invested with Goldco.