The SPDR S&P/ASX 50 ETF (ASX: SFY) and Vanguard MSCI Australian Small Companies Index ETF (ASX: VSO) are exchange-traded funds (ETFs) operating in the Australian shares sector, and aiming to make investing as simple as possible.
How the SFY and VSO ETFs fit in a portfolio
The SPDR SFY ETF is the only Australian ETF providing exposure to Australia’s top 50 listed companies, by market capitalisation. SFY provides a low-cost way to invest in the ASX’s top 50 companies through a single fund.
The Vanguard VSO ETF provides exposure to a diversified portfolio of Australian small caps and tracks the MSCI Australian Shares Small Cap Index. This is a low-cost way to access the performance of Australian small-cap shares through a single fund.
See our ASX VSO report – it’s totally free.
Okay, so we know what they’re designed to do, the sectors and strategies. Now what? One of the quick ways to compare ETFs like VSO and SFY is to study the fee load. No one likes paying high fees if they don’t need to. Here at Best ETFs and Rask Austalia, we begin by analysing the fees and ‘all in’ costs of an ETF or fund. Our team will score ETFs based on management fees, plus any other costs, then put them into quartiles by sector, strategy and across the entire ETF market.
To make this article easier to digest, we’ll just study the fees or ‘management expense ratio’ (MER). Using data for December 2020, the SFY ETF has an MER of 0.29% while the VSO ETF had a yearly fee of 0.30%. As a result, SFY comes out on top. Keep in mind, a more useful metric to know is the fee quartiles that these ETFs find themselves in (note: quartile 1 is best). Meaning, we take all the Australian shares ETFs in our database and classify them into 4 quartiles, based on their fees. For example, any ETF which has a fee below 0.3% would be considered in our first (best) quartile.
How we study past performance
Time to look at past returns. Keep in mind, performance isn’t everything — and past performance is not indicative of future performance. It’s just one part of a much bigger picture. The reason we say performance is not everything is because of volatility of financial markets and the economy from one year to the next. Some ETFs and funds can put in a attractive return one year just to generate unsatisfactory returns the next time around. That’s why we prefer three-year or seven-year track records over one-year track records. It can smooth out the temporary performances caused by external factors. Both ETFs have achieved our three-year performance hurdle. As of December 2020, the SFY ETF had an average annual return of 7.56%. During the same time, the VSO ETF returned 9.50%.
One final point: the ETF provider is important. In Australia, we believe there are a handful of stand-out ETF providers and many that are mid-pack or very fresh. As you guessed, the provider backing the SFY ETF is SPDR. And SPDR ranks highly for our scores of ETF providers and issuers in Australia. We think SPDR is one of Australia’s top 10 ETF providers for advisers and institutions, and its ETFs on the ASX provide good exposure to particular financial markets for retail investors. VSO’s ETF provider on the ASX is Vanguard. Vanguard ranks highly for our scores of ETF providers and issuers in Australia. We consider Vanguard to be in Australia’s top three ETF providers for retail investors, advisers and institutions.
What it all means
In summary, the VSO ETF ranks higher against our internal scoring methodology and by quite some distance against SFY.
Please, keep in mind, there is much more to choosing a good ETF. That’s why you should now use these skills to find the best ETF you can. If you want the name of our team’s top ETF pick for 2021, keep reading…