Gold ETF Flows: May 2021

Gold ETF inflows catch up to gold price strength


May highlights

Global gold ETFs added 61.3t tonnes (t) (US$3.4bn, 1.7% AUM) in May, reversing three straight months of net outflows. We believe this to be largely a function of investment demand increasing with the price strength of gold, along with renewed inflation concerns in the market, a weaker dollar and lower real yields. Global assets under management (AUM) stand at 3,628t (US$222bn). 1  AUM is now only 9% shy of the August 2020 high of US$240bn and 7% shy of the October 2020 tonnage high of 3,908bn.2 


ETF flows chart

Data as of

Sources: Bloomberg, Company Filings, ICE Benchmark Administration, World Gold Council; Disclaimer

May regional overview

Larger funds in the US, UK and Germany were once again the primary driver of flows, flipping to net inflows. North American funds added 34.5t (US$2.1bn, 2.0%). European funds saw inflows of 31.2t (US$1.6bn, 1.9%). Funds in 'Other' regions lost 1.9% of assets (-1.0t, -US$69mn).3  Asian-listed funds had outflows for a second straight month (-US$210mn, -2.7%) coming almost entirely from China, which had strong local stock market strength. Asia does, however, remain the strongest region in terms of percentage growth this year, having added 11% to holdings, or 13.8t through the end of May.

Low-cost gold ETF segment continues to grow 4

We continue to see strong inflows into low-cost ETFs across the globe, most recently evidenced by 6.3t (US$366mn, 26%) into Xtrackers IE Physical Gold and 1.5t (US$92mn, 2.2%) into SPDR® Gold MiniShares during May. The 8.3t of net inflows in the low-cost space represented 13% of net global inflows during the month. The 181t of low-cost assets now represents 5% of the total global gold ETF market compared with less than 3% a year ago.

Price performance and trading volumes

Gold finished the month 7.5% higher at US$1,900/oz, breaking through resistance.5  Gold is now effectively flat on the year, rallying 13% in the last two months. We recently discussed gold’s stable volatility behaviour in our Investment Update: Time to realise gold’s true volatility, which highlights potential opportunities in the gold derivatives market and how gold’s volatility profile is key to its strength as a portfolio diversifier.

Gold daily trading averages rose meaningfully during May to US$176bn, after falling for two straight months. This is slightly higher than the 2021 average of US$165bn and below the 2020 average of US$183bn, more in line with the 2019 average of US$146bn. Net long positioning, via the recent Commitment of Traders (COT) report for gold COMEX futures, moved higher to 725t (US$44bn),6  the highest since early February 2021, but below the 2020 average net long level of 871t (US$53bn).7  The average weekly net long positioning historically remains around 500t (US$31bn).8

Market Commentary:

Our short-term price performance model suggested that all but two of the underlying variables we use had a positive contribution to gold’s performance – the first month this has happened since June 2011. We also believe the recent strength of gold is due to a function of:

  • higher inflation expectations
  • the weaker US dollar
  • positive gold sentiment and price momentum.

Anecdotally, some additional supporting factors include:

For more details see Gold Market Commentary, May 2021

Regional flows11

Large North American and European funds drove inflows

  • North American funds had inflows of 34.5t (US$2.1bn, 2.0%)
  • Holdings in European funds rose by 31.2t (US$1.6bn, 1.9%)
  • Funds listed in Asia had net outflows of 3.3t (-US$210mn)
  • Other regions had outflows of 1.0t (-US$69mn, 1.9%).

Individual flows

SPDR® Gold Shares (US) led global inflows in May, followed by iShares Physical Gold Trust (UK)

  • In North America, SPDR® Gold Shares added 26.2t (US$1.6bn, 2.7%), followed by iShares Gold Trust, which added 4.8t (US$296mn, 1.1%). SPDR® Gold MiniShares had holdings rise by 1.5t (US$92mn, 2.2%), while Aberdeen Physical Gold Shares added 0.4t (US$27mn, 1.2%)
  • In Europe12, iShares Physical Gold ETC added 8.8t (US$510mn, 4.0% and Invesco Physical Gold added 6.4t (US$383mn, 3.1%)
  • In Asia, Bosera Gold led outflows with 1.7t (-US$103mn, -8.7%) coming out of the fund, followed by Huaan Yifu, which lost 1.2t (-US$68mn, 3.9%)
  • 1nvest Gold was a standout in other regions. The South African fund lost 1.5t or 52% of its assets during the month.

Long-term trends

Global gold ETF AUM bounced back and is only 9% below the all-time August 2020 highs

  • Large US funds continue to drive net global inflows in both directions
  • Gold ETF flows have started to catch up to the gold price rebound over the past few months
  • Asian gold ETF holdings growth remains above 11% in 2021, but has slowed over the past two months.

We regularly assess our calculation methodology to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date data for our ETF holdings and flows. In this context, we have improved our estimation of Xetra-Gold holdings and their change over time based on the fact that 1,000 units of the fund represent 1 kilogram of gold whereas other funds decrease the amount of gold backing each unit to cover management fees. It is important to note, however, that regardless of their structure, most funds we include in our gold ETF universe are fully backed by physical gold. While a few funds allow other holdings such as cash or derivatives, we only monitor those investing at least 90% through physical gold and appropriately adjust their reported assets to estimate their physical holdings only. For more information, see our Methodology note.


  1. We regularly review the global gold-backed ETF universe and adjust the list of funds and holdings based on newly available data and information.

  2. Based on the LBMA Gold Price PM as of 30 May 2021.

  3. ‘Other’ region includes Australia, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

  4. Low-cost US-based gold-backed ETFs are defined as exchange-traded open-ended funds listed in the US and Europe, backed by physical gold, with annual management fees and other expenses like fx costs of 20bps or less. At present, these include Aberdeen Physical Swiss Gold Shares, SPDR® Gold MiniShares, Graniteshares Gold Trust, Goldman Sachs Physical Gold ETF, CI Gold Bullion Fund, WisdomTree Core Physical Gold, and Xtrackers IE Physical Gold ETC.

  5. Based on the LBMA Gold Price PM as of 30 May 2021. 

  6. As of 30 May 2021.

  7. Net longs represent Money Manager and Other net long positioning in the COMEX futures market.

  8. From 4 December 2012 to 24 May 2021, based on available data.

  9. We calculate gold-backed ETF flows both in ounces/tonnes of gold and in US dollars because these two metrics are relevant in understanding funds’ performance. The change in tonnes gives a direct measure of how holdings evolve, while the dollar value of flows is a finance-industry standard that gives a perspective on how much investment reaches the funds. There are some months where the reported flows measured in tonnes of gold and their dollar-value equivalent seem inconsistent across regions. Both figures are correct. The disparity is due to the interaction between the performance of the gold price intra-month, the direction and movement of the US dollar, and the timing of the flows. For example, hypothetically, if European funds were to experience outflows early in the month, when the price of gold was low, but gained assets later in the month when the price of gold increased, and/or if the euro/dollar currency rate moved meaningfully when there were flows, there might be a discrepancy between tonnage change and flows.

  10. We do not directly discuss the Xtrackers individual fund flows in the section given the direct movement between the parent company funds.