Gold ETF Flows: November, 2021

Gold ETF flows turn positive in November led by North American funds

Published:

November highlights

Gold-backed ETFs (gold ETFs)1 experienced net inflows of 13.6 tonnes (t) (US$838mn, 0.4% AUM) in November, the first month of positive flows since July. Inflows into North America and Europe well exceeded outflows from Asia, which saw negative flows for the first time since May. Global gold ETF holdings rebounded from year-to-date lows, increasing to 3,578t (US$208bn)2 as investment demand for larger gold ETFs returned amid decades-high inflation and heightened market volatility.

 

ETF flows chart

Data as of

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

Regional overview

Both North American and European gold ETFs contributed to November’s inflows, a reversal from the headwinds faced by larger funds in these regions for much of this year. North American ETFs had inflows of 12.1t (US$744mn) driven by gains from major US funds likely impacted by positioning around options expiration of listed gold ETFs in mid-November, resulting in the creation of new shares. 3 Similarly, larger funds in the UK and France led inflows within Europe, which added 5.6t (US$333mn) in total. The US Federal Reserve (Fed) officially announced its plan to taper bond purchases early this month while emphasising patience on interest rate hikes. Meanwhile, the latest US Consumer Price Index (CPI) print reached its highest level since 1990, and the Fed Chairman acknowledged that current elevated inflation should no longer be characterised as ‘transitory’, which was less supportive for gold demand at month-end. Eurozone inflation similarly hit a record high in the single currency era this month, while the region’s monetary outlook remains more dovish. Flows into low-cost ETFs4  went back to positive, although this was not a significant driver last month as they added just US$8mn globally.

On the other hand, Asian ETFs had outflows of 5.0t (-US$297mn), primarily due to tactical selling in China as the local gold price rose and equity markets stabilised, while holdings recovered towards the end of the month when gold prices declined. This was partially offset by inflows in India, driven by seasonal demand surrounding the Diwali festival and a correction in the local stock market later in November.5  Other regions also contributed to total assets with inflows of 1.0t (US$58mn).6  

Price performance and trading volumes

Gold ended the month 2% higher, settling above US$1,804/oz.7  Prices initially rallied on the heels of decades-high inflation in both the US and Europe before falling back as the dollar rallied. 

More specifically, our return attribution model suggests that gold’s neutral performance in November was driven by the following:

  • a rise in inflation expectations in the first half of the month to their highest level since 2005, leading to a decline in US real yields to y-t-d lows8  
  • strong H1 November returns were offset by an appreciating dollar as oil prices crashed by more than 20% on the news of the COVID Omicron variant, which both reduced inflation expectations and led to US dollar outperformance against key commodity currencies including the Australian dollar

Gold remains more than 4% lower on the year as a sustained rally in prices failed to materialise given monetary headwinds and consistent dollar strength, particularly since June. Daily trading averages rose to US$182bn in November, from US$152bn in October – in line with 2020 averages of $183bn. Higher OTC and COMEX volumes both contributed, while net long COMEX futures positions briefly touched their highest levels y-t-d near 900t (US$53bn).9  

For more details see Gold Market Commentary, November 2021

Regional flows10

Inflows from North American and European funds in November outweighed outflows from Asian funds

  • North American funds had inflows of 12.1t (US$744mn, 0.7%)
  • Holdings in European funds had inflows of 5.6t (US$333mn, 0.4%)
  • Funds listed in Asia had net outflows of 5.0t (-US$297mn, -3.7%)
  • Other regions had inflows of 1.0t (US$58mn, 1.7%).

Individual flows

SPDR® Gold Shares and iShares Gold Trust in the US and Invesco Physical Gold and WisdomTree Physical Swiss Gold in the UK drove global inflows in November, partially offset by outflows from Asian funds

  • In North America, SPDR® Gold Shares added 10.7t (US$663mn, 1.2%), while iShares Gold Trust had inflows of 2.0t (US$117mn, 0.4%)
  • In Europe, Invesco Physical Gold had inflows of 3.4t (US$204mn, 1.5%), while WisdomTree Physical Swiss Gold added 2.3t (US$132mn, 3.9%). On the other hand, Xtrackers Physical Gold in Germany had outflows of 2.9t (-US$171mn, -8.2%)
  • In Asia, Chinese ETFs Bosera Gold Exchange had outflows of 3.5t (-US$210mn, -15%), while E Fund Gold lost 1.3t (-US$81mn, -9.7%).

Long-term trends

Gold ETFs recently reversed course with inflows into large North American and European ETFs despite only a small increase in gold prices 

  • Year-to-date, gold ETFs have seen global outflows of US$8.8bn (-167t) as large North American and some European funds have lost assets in line with fluctuating gold prices, while low-cost funds and those in Asia have remained mostly positive
  • Asian gold ETFs have consistently stood out as the primary growth driver among global funds despite weakness in November, having added more than US$1.0bn (14%) y-t-d as uncertainty surrounds regional economic growth and equity market performance
  • While flows into low-cost ETFs have been muted of late, inflows have been relatively consistent regardless of the gold price direction, growing by almost 41% y-t-d (57.8t), and constitute close to 6% of the total global gold ETF market.
     

Footnotes

  1. We periodically 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 November 2021. It should be noted that shortly after this price was registered, the spot price fell sharply on the back of comments by Fed Chairman Powell. Using spot prices, gold’s performance in November was virtually flat.

  3. Authorized Participants may create and redeem shares of an ETF for shares or units of the underlying security or asset. For more details see Gold-backed ETFs primer.

  4. Low-cost US-based gold-backed ETFs are defined by the World Gold Council 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, iShares Gold Trust Micro, CI Gold Bullion Fund, WisdomTree Core Physical Gold, and Xtrackers IE Physical Gold ETC.

  5. Local Indian stock market represented by the BSE Sensex Index.

  6. Other’ regions include Australia, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

  7. Based on the LBMA Gold Price PM as of 30 November 2021.

  8. Based on the Bloomberg US Government Generic 10-year Yield and the US 10-year Breakeven Inflation Index.

  9. Based on COMEX positioning data as of 16 November 2021.

  10. 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. We have made a few adjustments and improvements to our calculation methodology as of 1 July 2021 that will impact historical and future data. Specifically, we revised the methodology used to estimate changes in gold holdings as described below:

    Previously, changes in tonnes were calculated by converting a fund’s AUM (in USD) into gold holdings (in tonnes) and computing the difference over periods. However, currency movements and large daily and weekly gold price movements could distort the difference between tonnage change and US-dollar fund flows during short time horizons. We therefore adjusted tonnage change as a function of fund flows versus AUM and replaced the tonnage change field with fund flows (tonnes).

    Previously, changes in tonnes were calculated by converting a fund’s AUM (in USD) into gold holdings (in tonnes) and computing the difference over periods. However, currency movements and large daily and weekly gold price movements could distort the difference between tonnage change and US-dollar fund flows during short time horizons. We therefore adjusted tonnage change as a function of fund flows versus AUM and replaced the tonnage change field with fund flows (tonnes).

    • Now, for most funds, we estimate US-dollar fund flows, as described in section 2.3.2 below, and then convert those flows to fund flows (tonnes).
    • Fund flows (tonnes) and US-dollar fund flows will now represent a more aligned explanation of investment demand for gold ETFs, while the true holdings of a fund, in US dollars and tonnage, will remain a close estimate, impacted by the currency and price volatility described above.
    • Based on our initial analysis, the changes are not likely to have a material long-term effect on historical information, particularly on a global or regional aggregate basis, but will adjust short-term fluctuations that can sometimes occur due to input data and timing variations.