VGS: Were you better off buying the S&P 500 ETF?

IVV and VGS are both popular international ETFs. But which one wins?

| More on:
One boy is triumphant while the other holds his head in his hands after a game of chess.

Image source: Getty Images

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Key points

  • Vanguard has long dominated with the ASX's most popular ETFs
  • Yet VGS lacks the popularity of iShares' S&P 500 ETF
  • Today, we compare the two...

Time and time again, statistics show that the most popular ASX exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are those that track ASX shares themselves.

That is not too surprising. Australian investors seem patriotic in that way, or perhaps they just stick to the companies we all know best. But international ETFs have also been rising in popularity as many investors want to add exposure to world-class companies outside Australia, companies perhaps like Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN), to their portfolios.

ETF provider Vanguard has the distinction of running the ASX's most popular ETF — the Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF (ASX: VAS). VAS is by far the winner. But Vanguard's flagship international offering — the Vanguard MSCI International Shares Index ETF (ASX: VGS) — is a distant laggard. It is not even the ASX's most popular international shares ETF. That honour goes to the iShares S&P 500 ETF (ASX: IVV).

VGS vs. IVV: Which ASX ETF comes out on top?

VGS and IVV are both remarkably similar, and yet quite different. On paper, VGS is far more diversified than IVV. It invests in shares ranging from more than 20 different advanced economies. These include Britain, Japan, Canada, the United States, and Europe. Its current basket counts almost 1,500 different individual shares.

In contrast, IVV tracks the US-centric S&P 500 Index. This index houses 500 of the largest companies that are listed on the US markets.

Yet both ETFs here largely have similar top 10 holdings. That is because both ETFs are weighted by market capitalisation. And the largest companies on both the S&P 500 and in VGS both happen to be the same.

But let's get down to the $64,000 question: which ETF has been better to own for investors?

So as of 30 April, the iShares S&P 500 ETF had returned 8.5% over the preceding 12 months (including the value of dividend distributions). Over the past three years, IVV units have returned an average of 13.2% per annum. That grows to 14.5% over the past five years.

In contrast, VGS has returned 4.7% over the past year. It has averaged 10.1% over the past three, and 11.4% over the past five.

So it appears VGS's increased diversification has held this ETF back compared to IVV. This makes IVV the unbridled winner in a showdown with VGS over any recent time period.

Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future gains, so this could well change in the future. But it perhaps explains why iShares' S&P 500 ETF remains a far more popular choice than Vanguard's International Shares ETF for ASX investors.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Motley Fool contributor Sebastian Bowen has positions in Amazon and Apple. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has positions in and has recommended Amazon, Apple, and Vanguard MSCI Index International Shares ETF. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has recommended the following options: long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Amazon, Apple, Vanguard MSCI Index International Shares ETF, and iShares Trust - iShares Core S&P 500 ETF. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

More on ETFs

child in superman outfit pointing skyward, indicating a rising share price

Is the Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF (VAS) a good buy for beginners?

Should new investors start with the VAS ETF?

Read more »

A businessman holding a world globe in one hand, representing global investment.

These ASX ETFs could be world class options in February

These ETFs could give your portfolio a boost in 2024. Here's what you need to know about them.

Read more »

Woman on her phone with diagrams of tech sector related elements linking with each other.

Here are 3 exciting ASX tech ETFs to buy right now

These ETFs give investors access to some quality tech stocks.

Read more »

A smiling little boy helps his father plant a tree, indicating that big things grow from a small beginning.

I'm planning to buy this top ASX ETF for my child

This investment ticks many of the boxes I’m looking for.

Read more »

A group of young ASX investors sitting around a laptop with an older lady standing behind them explaining how investing works.

Buy and hold these ASX ETFs for 10 years or more

These ETFs could be top long term investments. But what are you buying?

Read more »

a couple clink champagne glasses on board a private aircraft with gourmet food plates set in front of them. They are wearing designer clothes and looking wealthy.

How this rocketing ASX ETF is tapping into the billionaire-making AI revolution

The AI revolution has added billions more dollars to the fortunes of dozens of billionaires in 2024.

Read more »

Suncorp share price Businessman cheering and smiling on smartphone

3 ASX ETFs for smart investors to buy

These ETFs have delivered strong returns for unitholders.

Read more »

Man looking at an ETF diagram.

4 ASX ETFs to supercharge your portfolio in February

These ETFs give investors access to a wide range of shares.

Read more »