• Silver exchange-traded products (ETPs) have been phenomenally successful in the silver market.
  • 2020 witnessed the largest annual increase, of 331Moz; early 2021 has seen holdings achieve a record high of 1,207Moz in early February.
  • Since 2006, more than 20 ETPs have been launched. In terms of ounces under management, the US is the most important market with 622Moz at end-March 2021, followed by Canada (198Moz), then the UK (134Moz).
  • In terms of custodians, London is by far the most important centre, with 725Moz allocated at end-March, with a significant gap to Canada’s 198Moz.
  • Early 2021 saw an unprecedented 110Moz added in just three days. Although some liquidations emerged, there were real concerns that London would run out of silver if ETP demand remained at a high level.

Introduction

Silver exchange-traded products (ETPs) have enjoyed phenomenal growth over the last year or so. This period saw two exceptional spells. March-July 2020 saw holdings rise by 302Moz, and in January-February 2021 holdings increased by 109Moz. In terms of the full year figures, global holdings in 2020 surged by a record 331Moz to a new high of 1.067 billion ounces. Last year’s gain was also comfortably the highest achieved since silver ETPs first launched in 2006. Investor interest in ETPs has so far been exceptionally strong in 2021, with holdings at end-February having risen to 1.18bn oz (yet another record high) before easing slightly in March.

The success of silver ETPs largely reflects a dramatic upsurge in interest among retail investors, having become the dominant players in this field. Prior to the launch of ETPs in 2006, retail investors looking to acquire silver had largely been restricted to purchasing coin and bars, collectively defined as physical investment. This activity has also witnessed significant growth, and although not strictly comparable, cumulative demand during 2010-15 stood at 1.6bn oz. However, ETPs have attracted a large swathe of new buyers, including those active in the stock market who might not have previously bought precious metals. As a result, there appears to be little sign of an adverse impact on physical investment by the success of silver ETPs. Their popularity among retail investors contrasts sharply with gold ETPs, where institutional players are far more prevalent. This, in turn, helps explain quite different trends in gold and silver ETP holdings. Retail investors tend to adopt a ‘buy and hold’ mentality, whereas institutional holdings can be more volatile.

Principal ETPs

At present, there are some 20 physically-backed silver ETPs. In this section, we look at the largest products and the key issuers by location. The location often differs from where the silver is stored; for example, while the US is by far the largest market by silver ETP issuer, the UK comfortably dominates as the physical storage location of the related silver bullion.

The largest ETP, by some distance, is the US iShares Silver Trust. Launched in April 2006, and with 575Moz in trust as of end-March, this fund accounted for half of global silver ETP holdings. It is one of three products that are listed on the NYSE Arca – the other two are Aberdeen Standard products. The next most important location by issuer is Canada. Five ETPs are managed here, the two most prominent being the Sprott Physical Silver Trust (with 131Moz under management) and the Sprott Physical Gold and Silver Trust (holding 60Moz of silver). Both are listed on the NYSE Arca.

In Europe, the UK ranks third behind the US and Canada by issuer and is dominated by WisdomTree. The company manages a number of silver-backed ETPs, the most significant of which is the WisdomTree Physical Silver product, launched in 2007. At end-March 2021, this held 99m oz of silver. It is listed on six exchanges, including the LSE and TSX.

Global Silver ETP Demand

Source: Bloomberg, ETP issuers