Most Popular ETFs Of The Year

Investors flocked to ETF giants to get their stock and bond exposure in 2016.

Senior ETF Analyst
Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
Edited by: Sumit Roy

In the ETF world, the rich get richer. The biggest funds by assets typically attract the largest flows each year. In that regard, 2016 was no exception.

The smallest ETF to make the top 10 inflows list for the year has an impressive $16.9 billion in assets, according to FactSet. The other ETFs on the list are much larger still.

Together, these 10 ETFs took in $87.1 billion of fresh investor money in the year-to-date period ending Dec. 6. To put that in context, total flows into all ETFs so far this year have been $225 billion.

There's still another three weeks left to go in the year, so the final numbers could change (we'll publish the official figures once they're released). But if there's any conclusion to be reached from these numbers, it's that investors still favor plain-vanilla index ETFs over their more complex counterparts―whether it be smart-beta funds, active funds or otherwise.

Investors Embrace S&P 500 ETFs

Indeed, for all this year's hype about "smart beta," it's "dumb beta" that investors wanted. In particular, when it comes to U.S. equities, investors plowed billions into S&P 500 ETFs. Three out of the top four funds on the flows list track the venerable large-cap index, including the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) and the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund (VOO)―all with inflows of more than $10.7 billion.

The only other U.S.-focused equity fund to make the cut was the broader Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTI), but its year-to-date flows of $5.2 billion were less than half that of the three S&P 500 funds.

Emerging Market Comeback

In a year that featured concerns about China and "Brexit," it's no wonder investors preferred U.S. equities. Even so, a trio of international equity ETFs also showed up in the top 10. The Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (VEA), which tracks developed-market stocks outside the U.S., had inflows of $8.8 billion in the year-to-date period.

At the same time, two low-cost emerging market ETFs—the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) and the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (IEMG)—made an appearance on the list, with inflows of $8.8 billion, and $6.5 billion, respectively.


GLD Falls Down The Ranks
Meanwhile, three nonequity ETFs found themselves on the list. The iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) took in $10.9 billion so far this year. AGG provides exposure to the market of U.S. investment-grade bonds, weighted by market value.

The iShares TIPS Bond ETF (TIP) was another popular bond fund, with inflows of $6.6 billion. TIP holds Treasury inflation-protected securities, a type of U.S. government bond that protects investors in a rising-rate environment.

The SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is another inflation-hedge in the top 10. The physically backed gold ETF was at the top of the flows leader board for much of the year, but fell down the ranks rapidly in the weeks following Donald Trump's victory at the polls. A post-election spike in interest rates and the U.S. dollar led GLD to lose some of its luster.

Incidentally, GLD is the most expensive ETF on the top inflows list, with an expense ratio of 0.40%. All the other funds in the top 10 have an expense ratio of 0.20% or less.

Flows For Jan. 1 to Dec, 6, 2016

TickerFundNet Flows*
SPYSPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust11,329.80
IVViShares Core S&P 500 ETF11,250.62
AGGiShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF10,910.56
VOOVanguard S&P 500 Index Fund10,743.41
GLDSPDR Gold Trust9,076.08
VEAVanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF8,814.22
VWOVanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF6,698.77
TIPiShares TIPS Bond ETF6,562.40
IEMGiShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF6,498.14
VTIVanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund5,236.37
*Net Flows in USD Million  


Contact Sumit Roy at [email protected]


Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for, where he has worked for 13 years. He creates a variety of content for the platform, including news articles, analysis pieces, videos and podcasts.

Before joining, Sumit was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. In those roles, he was responsible for most of the operations of HAI, a website dedicated to education about commodities investing.

Though he still closely follows the commodities beat, Sumit covers a much broader assortment of topics for, with a particular focus on stock and bond exchange-traded funds.

He is the host of’s Talk ETFs, a popular video series that features weekly interviews with thought leaders in the ETF industry. Sumit is also co-host of Exchange Traded Fridays,’s weekly podcast series.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing chess and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe.