If you ask Warren Buffett about what stocks to own, he’ll tell you you are better off looking for low-cost index funds to buy like the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA:VOO) or the mutual fund version, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund (MUTF:VFINX).
The ETF version charges 0.04% annually while the mutual fund version costs an extra ten basis points at 0.14%. However, if you invest $10,000 or more in Vanguard’s Admiral Shares version of the mutual fund, you’ll pay the same annual fee that you would for the ETF.
None of these three options are going to break the bank when it comes to fees.
As the Oracle of Omaha suggests, most people are better served by putting 90% of their investment portfolio in an S&P 500 index fund and the rest in a fixed-income fund invested in short-term U.S. Treasuries.
For those who want to diversify by style (value vs. growth), size (large cap vs. small cap), geography (domestic vs. international) or even sector or type of economy, here are seven index funds to buy that will get the job done at a reasonable price.
Index Funds to Buy: Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)
Expense: 0.04%, or $4 annually per $10,000 invested
While the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF isn’t the largest ETF on the market — that title goes to the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA:SPY) with $259 billion in total net assets — it does have $104.5 billion, which makes it the fourth-largest ETF in America.
If Buffett were to buy an ETF version of the S&P 500, VOO is the one he’d buy. Cheap at 0.04%, you’re buying 500 large U.S. companies that have been selected by Standard & Poor’s selection committee.
Interestingly, Vanguard took its S&P 500 index fund from the company’s 401(k) retirement plan in June and replaced it with a total stock market index fund.
The reason: to provide employees with greater diversification than the S&P 500 provides.
“For the average long-term investor, a total stock market fund is probably superior because of its added diversification,” said Sumit Roy, a senior writer at ETF.com. “But for a more active investor or a trader with a more nuanced view of which types of stocks will perform better, the S&P 500 fund could be more appropriate.”
However, if you look at the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (NYSEARCA:VTI), you’ll see that the VTI’s median market cap is still pretty large at $73.9 billion, easily within any investor’s definition of a large-cap stock.
I’d stick with the VOO.
Index Funds to Buy: Schwab International Index Fund (SWISX)
Expenses: 0.06%, or $6 annually per $10,000 invested
If you’re going to build a diversified portfolio it’s important to venture outside the U.S. A good choice, in my opinion, is the Schwab International Index Fund (MUTF:SWISX), which gives you 942 stocks from developed markets outside the U.S. and charges just 0.06% annually.
SWISX not only is one of the cheapest international mutual funds or ETFs available, but it also provides some value relative to U.S. stocks.
The fund tracks the performance of the MSCI EAFE Index with 61% of the portfolio invested in European stocks followed by Asia with a 31% weighting.
Extremely diversified at 942 holdings, SWISX’s top ten holdings account for just 11.3% of the overall portfolio.
SWISX is not a fund to own if you’re interested in smaller, high-growth companies. The average market cap is $36.4 billion with financials, industrials, and health care stocks accounting for 46% of the fund’s $4.6 billion in total assets.
SWISX isn’t sexy, but it will get the job done.
Index Funds to Buy: iShares Value (IUSV)
Expenses: 0.04%, or $4 annually per $10,000 invested
There are growth stocks, value stocks, and a blend of both.
The iShares Core S&P U.S. Value ETF (NASDAQ:IUSV) tracks the performance of the S&P 900 Value Index, which takes stocks from the S&P 500 and S&P MidCap 400, and selects those companies exhibiting relative value characteristics.
Currently, IUSV is a collection of 674 holdings, the number one holding being Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B) with a weighting of 3.52%. The top ten holdings account for 22% of the fund’s $4.4 billion in total assets.
Regarding performance, IUSV has done quite well despite the fact growth stocks have been the favorite target of investors in recent years. Over the past three years, IUSV has an annualized total return of 8.5% through October 29, not quite as good as the indexes, but likely to outperform in the years ahead as growth stocks fall out of favor.
One caveat: If you buy VOO, also buying IUSV might be a bit of large-cap overkill.
Index Funds to Buy: Vanguard Small Cap Growth (VISGX)
Expenses: 0.19%, or $19 annually per $10,000 invested
I had reservations about adding IUSV to a portfolio that already includes VOO. I have no reservations of adding the Vanguard Small-Cap Growth Index Fund (MUTF:VISGX), which tracks the CRSP U.S. Small Cap Growth Index, a group of stocks that are growing earnings per share in both the short-term and the long-term while also delivering attractive returns on assets.
How small are the companies in the index?
The largest stock has a market cap of $11.3 billion, the smallest is $54 million, and the average market cap is $2.8 billion. So, you’re getting decent-sized companies and very few micro-cap stocks.
The three largest sectors by weight are healthcare at 18.52%, industrials at 18.42%, and technology at 18.41%.
I like VISGX, which is also available as an ETF, because it provides a nice differentiator from the large-cap mutual fund and ETF indexes.
However, I would limit the amount you invest relative to the S&P 500. If you put $10,000 into the VOO, I’d try to limit your VISGX investment to $2,500 or so.
Index Funds to Buy: SPDR Portfolio Emerging Markets ETF (SPEM)
Expenses: 0.11%, or $11 annually per $10,000 invested
Emerging markets haven’t fared well in 2018, and the SPDR Portfolio Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:SPEM) is no exception, down 17.3% year to date on a total return basis.
However, SPEM did gain 34.8% in 2017 and 11.7% in 2016, so when it goes, it goes.
SPEM tracks the performance of the S&P Emerging BMI Index, a group of companies from emerging markets already included in the S&P Global BMI (Broad Market Index), that have a float-adjusted market cap of $75 million or more.
The top three countries in the portfolio based on weightings are China at 31.2%, Taiwan at 13.8%, and India at 13.2%. Regarding sectors, financials, information technology and consumer discretionary account for 30.3% of the fund’s $1.4 billion in total assets.
The weighted average market cap of the ETFs 1,387 holdings is $55.3 billion, almost double the index, with the top ten accounting for just 19% of the total.
If you’re in the Warren Buffett camp and believe a good S&P 500 ETF is all you need, SPEM isn’t likely for you. However, if you want to capture the world’s markets, developed and emerging, this is an excellent way to play it.
Index Funds to Buy: Vanguard Dividend Appreciation Index (VDAIX)
Expenses: 0.15%, or $15 annually per $10,000 invested
If you’ve heard of the Dividend Aristocrats, you’ll probably be open to considering the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation Index Fund (MUTF:VDAIX), which tracks the performance of the Nasdaq US Dividend Achievers Select Index (DVG).
The DVG is a collection of stocks whose companies have increased their annual dividend for ten consecutive years, a slightly less exacting qualification standard than the Dividend Aristocrats at 25 straight years.
The index is reconstituted and rebalanced annually in March with stocks capped at 4%. Any weighting above that is redistributed amongst the other holdings.
As of October 30, 2018, VDAIX its $1.4 billion in total assets invested amongst 182 companies, with a median market cap of $72.3 billion. Its top ten holdings account for 31% of the fund’s assets.
Over the last three years, it’s outperformed the S&P 500. Over more extended periods, it’s kept pace.
This is a nice alternative to the VOO, but you will pay slightly more.
Index Funds to Buy: Fidelity MSCI Consumer Staples Index ETF (FSTA)
Expenses: 0.08%, or $8 annually per $10,000 invested
By including the Fidelity MSCI Consumer Staples Index ETF (NYSEARCA:FSTA), I’ve provided investors with a fifth ETF or mutual fund provider along with a good sector play heading into a period of greater volatility.
FSTA tracks the performance of the MSCI USA IMI Consumer Staples Index. The index is a sub-segment of the MSCI USA Investable Market Index (IMI), a collection of more than 2,400 large, mid, and small cap stocks, covering 99% of the total U.S. free-float-adjusted market cap.
In recent years, consumer staples stocks haven’t kept pace with the S&P 500.
However, if you look at 2008, the year every stock did badly, the MSCI USA IMI Consumer Staples Index lost 16.4%, less than half the losses of the entire U.S. market.
In fact, over the past 14 years, the consumer staples index has had just one down year (2018 might be a second) providing investors with an inexpensive way to protect your portfolio on the downside.
Consumer staples stocks might not be doing well at the moment, but historically they’ve been a savior for equity portfolios.
As of this writing Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.