ETF Trends
ETF Trends

Exchange traded fund investors have a number of options to track the S&P 500 Index, but each offering show small differences that can produce different results.

For starters, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) is the largest ETF and the first U.S.-listed ETF to hit the market. With about $20 billion in shares exchanging hands on average each day, it trades more than any other security, has the most liquid options market of any ETF and tight bid-ask spreads, according to Morningstar analyst Michael Rawson.

All of these attributes “make this ETF ideal for institutional traders,” Rawson said.

However, potential investor should be aware that SPY is structured as a unit investment trust and not a regulated investment company like other funds. Consequently, the structure prevents SPY from reinvesting dividends, holding securities that are not included in the index, like futures, or engage in securities lending. Moreover, the ETF has a one-month lag beween the ex-dividend date and the payment of its dividends.

“These factors have caused SPY to lag its index by more than its expense ratio, particularly in bull markets,” Rawson added.

Specifically, SPY has returned an annualized 17.8% from March 1, 2012 through February 28, 2015, compared to a 17.97% return from the Vanguard 500 Index (NYSEArca: VOO) and 17.93 from iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: IVV).

VOO and IVV have also been quickly gaining traction as an alternative method for accessing the S&P 500.

Potential investors should also be aware that VOO is considered a separate class share of its mutual fund.

“This has potential tax benefits and drawbacks because taxable events related to the mutual fund assets can affect the ETF’s assets and vice versa,” Rawson said.

Rawson argues that investors may consider IVV due to its cheap 0.07% expense ratio, compared to SPY’s 0.09% expense ratio, and the iShares ETF’s better job matching the underlying index. Additionally, VOO is the cheapest of the bunch with a 0.05% expense ratio.

However, while IVV and VOO are cheaper, the two ETFs show lower activity, compared to SPY. IVV has a 4.1 million average daily volume, VOO has a 1.4 million average daily volume and SPY has a 111.7 million average daily volume.

Investors would probably just utilize the iShares and Vanguard as a buy-and-hold option since holding fees have a bigger impact on returns than trading costs. Consequently, large and fast traders would probably prefer SPY while long-term investors would stick to cheaper VOO or IVV.

For more information on the S&P 500, visit our S&P 500 category.

Max Chen contributed to this article.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.