By now it can be argued that the most positive defining instrument of the global appetite for risk and reward is represented by gold bullion, as also seen in gold bullion exchange traded funds (ETFs), of which the biggest by far remains the SPDR Gold Shares ETF, which currently holds physical gold bullion of just less than 36m ounces, worth USD 34.5bn.SPDR Gold Shares, which represent a proxy holding in physical gold bullion, is trading, like gold bullion itself, just 5% below dollar price highs, seen during March 2008. By the same token, silver bullion and silver ETFs are trading roughly 25% below the price high seen for the physical precious metal, also recorded just over a year ago.The performance of gold bullion and gold ETFs has not only outclassed any other kind of publicly available and widely traded investment in absolute terms, but has also given a steadier 12-month return, defying the traditional perception of volatility attached to the metal. Established gold royalty companies such as Franco-Nevada have also performed very well, much in line with gold ETFs, in trading close to highs at this point in time.Seen across the broader investment horizon, gold bullion and gold ETFs look pretty good. Listed stocks generally have rebounded over the past few months, but remain a long way off highs seen mainly during the former parts of 2008, and latter parts of 2007. The MSCI world equities USD index is around 40% off its highs; broad commodity indices such as the Dow Jones AIG Commodity Index and Reuters/Jefferies CRB continue to sit nearly 50% off highs, indicating that investors are either yet to buy into the broader theme that hard assets - generally - will protect against inevitable inflation, or that commodity pricing beyond gold bullion is yet to gain real upward traction.The role of gold bullion beyond its uses as ornament and industrial material continue to enchant not only investors in actual and proxy physical gold bullion, but also in listed gold equities. The preparedness of professional investors to be in both camps was recently illustrated by Paulson & Co Inc., which famously scored gains of USD 3.7bn betting against (mainly US) banks in 2007 and 2008. Paulson & Co currently holds around 10% of the SPDR Gold Shares ETF, equal to about 111 tonnes of the physical metal.At the latest count, Paulson & Co. also held 2.6% of Gold Fields, 4.4% of Kinross, both global Tier I gold diggers, 11.2% of budding producer Centamin Egypt, and, perhaps most tellingly, 11% of AngloGold Ashanti, dating to just over two months ago. AngloGold Ashanti has benefited from the lifting of a stock overhang; Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti's erstwhile parent company, sold down USD 434m in AngloGold Ashanti earlier this year, followed by a final exit sale in which USD 1.28bn was realised for Anglo American; the stock in that deal was bought by Paulson & Co Inc.

AngloGold Ashanti also continues to attack its injurious hedge book; overall, the senior Tier I gold producer may be considered a recovery stock, given its history and the resolve of its relatively new CEO, Mark Cutifani. At this point, however, perhaps the overriding point of interest is that, seen over the past 12 months, AngloGold Ashanti ranks as one of the best performing gold stocks in the world, and thus one of the best performing stocks of any kind. AngloGold Ashanti is currently trading just fractions off its 12-month high, and in that sense, among others, leads the global Tier I gold mining group, followed by Newmont.Price performance of the global Tier II gold mining group remains led forward by Iamgold and Eldorado, and also Fresnillo, which more correctly is classified as a primary silver producer, with byproduct gold and base metals. Few listed gold stocks are dedicated to being pure, given the handy role that other metals and minerals can play across economic cycles.Measured by absolute price performance, which indicates the most in-demand gold stocks around the globe, Australia's tiny Shield Mining currently leads the pack - at least momentarily - after its recently announced interesting drilling results from the Tijirit project in Mauritania, a country that's played a big part in the history of established miners First Quantum (copper-gold) and Red Back, which ranks among the most demanded gold stocks in the world.The list of 50 top performing gold stocks includes a host of names that have become investor favourites for various reasons, and includes evergreens such as Randgold Resources and Alamos;  potential takeover targets such as Semafo and Seabridge; budding producers such as Osisko and Centamin Egypt; previously sleeping gems such as Norseman Gold and La Mancha Resources; stocks backed by excellent and interesting marketing such as Andean and Colossus Minerals, and, of course, stocks that offer elements of sexy risk such as San Gold and Olympus Pacific.Measured on a weighted average, the top 50 listed gold stocks, given absolute price performance, are trading a mere 6.6% below 12-months highs. This compares to just over 30% below highs for a broader 250 listed gold names, and 50% below highs for the world's top 100 miners, measured by market value. These numbers indicate that listed gold stocks generally have performed far better than other mining stocks; that, however, should not conceal the other end of the listed gold stocks spectrum.Among more substantial stocks, High River Gold, with interests in West Africa and Russia, is trading 90% below its 12-months highs; Australia's Golden West Resources is 83% down; Banro, with interests in the DRC, 81% down; Crystallex, exposed to Venezuela, 78% down; Highland Gold Mining, exposed to Russia and challenged financially, 74% down;  New Gold, 70% down, and Gold Reserve, exposed to Venezuela, 68% down, and likely to continue feeling the heat.50 SELECTED TOP PERFORMING GOLD STOCKS

Stock

From

From

Value

price

high*

low*

USD bn

Shield Mining

AUD 0.20

0.0%

900.0%

0.008

Iamgold

USD 10.86

-0.5%

389.2%

3.965

Medusa

AUD 1.84

-0.5%

348.8%

0.237

Sino Gold

AUD 6.28

-1.4%

165.0%

1.420

Fresnillo

GBP 6.92

-1.8%

644.1%

7.839

Auex Ventures

CAD 2.72

-1.8%

240.0%

0.071

Osisko

CAD 6.60

-2.1%

371.4%

1.489

Patagonia Gold

GBP 0.11

-2.2%

181.3%

0.105

Golden Odyssey

CAD 0.21

-2.3%

950.0%

0.009

Kingsgate

AUD 6.15

-2.4%

179.5%

0.457

Norseman Gold

GBP 0.31

-2.4%

1950.0%

0.074

Shoreham Resources

CAD 0.40

-2.4%

900.0%

0.017

Semafo

CAD 2.39

-2.4%

218.7%

0.492

San Gold

CAD 2.38

-2.9%

317.5%

0.499

Randgold Resources

USD 66.74

-2.9%

199.6%

5.117

Olympus Pacific

CAD 0.30

-3.2%

650.0%

0.062

Eldorado

USD 9.40

-3.5%

295.0%

3.487

AngloGold Ashanti

USD 37.62

-3.5%

181.4%

13.325

Orocobre

AUD 0.64

-3.8%

337.9%

0.029

Western Goldfields

CAD 2.75

-3.8%

450.0%

0.331

Lake Shore Gold

CAD 2.09

-4.1%

248.3%

0.393

Marum Resources

CAD 0.21

-4.7%

720.0%

0.018

[[SPDR Gold Shares ETF]]

USD 94.15

-4.9%

42.7%

34.468

La Mancha Resources

CAD 0.77

-4.9%

1825.0%

0.097

Seabridge

CAD 32.32

-4.9%

330.9%

1.068

Andean

AUD 1.90

-5.0%

347.1%

0.681

Alamos

CAD 9.70

-5.4%

177.1%

0.920

Franco-Nevada

CAD 29.06

-5.5%

150.1%

2.576

Red Back

CAD 10.55

-5.7%

268.9%

2.135

Silver Lake Resources

AUD 0.57

-5.8%

334.6%

0.067

Mindax

AUD 0.48

-5.9%

146.2%

0.048

Saracen

AUD 0.24

-6.0%

370.0%

0.036

Atna Resources

CAD 0.93

-6.1%

210.0%

0.068

Rubicon Minerals

USD 2.15

-6.5%

207.1%

0.318

Shandong Gold

CNY 42.16

-7.3%

219.4%

4.390

Chalice Gold

AUD 0.25

-7.5%

250.0%

0.014

Zhongjin

CNY 70.21

-7.6%

207.9%

3.692

Real Gold

HKD 6.57

-7.7%

50.0%

0.559

Kirkland Lake

CAD 9.55

-8.1%

279.0%

0.494

Allied Nevada

CAD 7.51

-8.3%

264.6%

0.380

Queenston Mining

CAD 4.20

-8.9%

452.6%

0.213

Richmont Mines

CAD 4.46

-9.5%

268.6%

0.103

JSC Polymetal

USD 8.15

-9.9%

715.0%

2.567

Minera IRL

GBP 0.68

-10.5%

57.2%

0.066

Pan African

GBP 0.05

-10.9%

173.3%

0.089

Royal Gold

USD 44.26

-11.1%

94.5%

1.802

Lihir

AUD 3.20

-12.1%

110.5%

5.863

Centamin Egypt

CAD 1.47

-12.5%

241.9%

1.286

Colossus Minerals

CAD 3.50

-12.5%

714.0%

0.171

Newmont

USD 47.04

-12.5%

122.2%

22.531

Averages/total

 

-5.6%

389.4%

126.147

Weighted averages

 

-6.6%

127.9%

* 12-month