Reports

What are the best Australian share ETFs?

We road test 5 popular Australian share ETFs, comparing them across 6 factors.

Australian share ETFs continue to gain in popularity. As of August 2019 there is over $19 billion invested in ETFs tracking Australian shares, up 23% from the previous year.

Each year we compare all 190+ ETFs in our Australian ETF Report. Here we road test 5 popular Australian share ETFs, comparing them across 6 factors:

  1. Size
  2. Costs
  3. Slippage
  4. Liquidity
  5. Returns
  6. Track record
  7. Stockspot’s verdict

ETFs track a market index rather than taking bets on individual companies. For this reason, their management fees are much lower than typical ‘active’ fund managers. Tracking a market ‘index’ also offers the benefits of transparency and potential tax efficiency. ETF investors directly benefit from share capital gains, dividends and franking credits paid by shares contained within an ETF.

Size

ASX code ETF name Size ($M)*
STW SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF 3,724
VAS Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF 4,032
IOZ iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF 1,382
MVW VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF 956
A200 BetaShares Australia 200 ETF 614

*Total fund assets under management at 31 August 2019

VAS and STW are the largest Australian share ETFs managing $4.0 and $3.7 billion respectively. MVW has been growing fast and now manages $956m while the newly launched A200 ETF from BetaShares debued in May 2018 with $50m under management and has since grown to $614m.

Size is important because ETFs must reach a certain size to become viable. As ETFs gather more assets it becomes easier for them to cut their expense ratios (fees) to continue attracting more funds. On the other hand, ETFs which haven’t achieved critical mass sometimes shut down and return investor funds or increase their fees to cover their costs.

STW is the most profitable ETF of this group: $3.7b charging 0.19% p.a. which earns them $7.1 million in revenue per year, more than enough to be sustainable. If anything this product is likely to come under pressure to reduce its fees again, especially in response to both Vanguard and iShares reducing their fees in July 2019.

On the other hand the recently launched A200 is earning $430,000 p.a. in fees based on its $614 million AUM. BetaShares will be hoping it can continue to amass significant funds so that fee revenue allows this product to be financially viable for them.

Costs

ASX code ETF name MER (% p.a.)
STW SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF 0.19
VAS Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF 0.10
IOZ iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF 0.09
MVW VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF 0.35
A200 BetaShares Australia 200 ETF 0.07

ETF expense ratios are becoming more competitive in Australia. In 2015 STW lowered its MER from 0.29% to 0.19% in response to competitive pressures from VAS and IOZ which were gaining market share with fees of 0.10% and 0.09% respectively. Since then STW has continued to lose share to Vanguard.

Both ETFs have been undercut by BetaShares when they launched A200 at 0.07% p.a. This sent a strong signal from BetaShares that it intends to compete with State Street, Vanguard and iShares in this category.

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The 3 lowest cost ETFs are now within 0.03% p.a. of each other on fees. That’s great news because costs are one of the only factors you can fully control when investing in Australian shares. The less you pay a fund, the more of the returns you keep in your pocket.

That said, costs have converged to the point where investors need to carefully consider other factors including the funds commercial viability, liquidity and track record.

Slippage

ASX code ETF name % Spread
STW SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF 0.04
VAS Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF 0.04
IOZ iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF 0.06
MVW VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF 0.09
A200 BetaShares Australia 200 ETF 0.06

Slippage refers to how much you lose by crossing the spread when buying or selling an ETF. It’s calculated by the average percentage difference between the best buyer and seller during market hours.

It has more of an impact if you’re trading an ETF or making regular contributions because you’ll need to cross the spread more often to get invested. STW and VAS  currently have the lowest slippage at 0.04% (four hundredths of one percent).

By comparison the average Australian Equity managed fund offered on the ASX mFunds platform charges a bid/ask spread of 0.55% which is more than 10x more than STW, VAS or A200! ETFs have much lower slippage than most active funds which means investors aren’t starting behind the 8 ball when they invest.

Liquidity

ASX code ETF name Daily Transacted Value ($)
STW SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF 14,121,045
VAS Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF 12,755,261
IOZ iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF 6,397,985
MVW VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF 2,880,922
A200 BetaShares Australia 200 ETF 12,490,990

Liquidity refers to the amount of turnover (or available turnover) in an ETF. We measure it by average daily volume on the ASX. Volume is a measure of market making activity and trading interest which makes it a reasonable estimate of liquidity.

It’s worth mentioning that it may not reflect liquidity in the underlying stocks which is typically much deeper for broad Australian share ETFs. However in times of crisis investors may not be able to rely exclusively on market makers for liquidity so daily volume is a relevant figure.

STW has the highest liquidity with over $14 million of traded value per day in August 2019. VAS and A200 are close behind followed by IOZ and MVW.

Returns

ASX code ETF name 3 Year Total Return p.a.
STW SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF 11.15%
VAS Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF 11.24%
IOZ iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF 11.11%
MVW VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF 10.88%
A200 BetaShares Australia 200 ETF

Total return to 31 August 2019

The 3 largest ETFs all generated similar returns over the last 3 years with STW the lowest at 11.15% p.a. and VAS the highest at 11.24%. A200 recently listed so doesn’t have 3 years of performance yet.

MVW failed to outperform over 3 years, falling short by 0.36% per year, stemming from its index composition. Where STW, VAS, IOZ and A200 are market-size weighted indices, MVW is an equal-weight index. This leads MVW to take weight out of the largest 10-15 shares and spread it across smaller companies.

The performance of these smaller shares relative to the largest companies is a key driver of differences between MVW and market-size based ETFs. Over a 12 month period, MVW has underperformed VAS, STW and IOZ due to smaller companies underperforming over the last year.

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Track record

The longer a track record of an ETF and the index it mirrors, the better understanding you have of how an index reacts to different market conditions as well as how closely the ETF is tracking its index.

Most of the broad Australian share indices like the S&P ASX/200 and S&P ASX/300 have existed for some time so you can see how they performed through boom times like 2003-2007 as well as periods of market stress like 2008.

Also important is the ‘tracking error’ which measures how well an ETF has done at mirroring its index. For example over the last 3 years VAS has generated 11.24% p.a. in returns compared to the benchmark (S&P ASX/300) which has delivered 11.34% p.a.

Tracking error is rarely zero because there are various factors that prevent an ETF from perfectly mirroring its index including fees. In the case of VAS, the difference roughly equals its fees (0.10%), which means it’s doing its job right.

BetaShares’ A200 fund tracks the newly created Solactive Australia 200 Index. It will take some time not only to see how the index performs, but also how closely A200 tracks the index.

ASX code ETF name Index history
STW SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF 19 years
VAS Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF 19 years
IOZ iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF 19 years
MVW VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF 16 years
A200 BetaShares Australia 200 ETF 1 year

Stockspot’s verdict

Since 2014 we’ve invested on behalf of our clients into the Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF (VAS).

What we originally liked about this fund was its low costs (0.10% p.a.) and that Vanguard has a consistent track record of lowering its fees, not just in response to competitors, but simply because it can.

We continue to favour VAS for a few reasons:

  • VAS’ low expense ratio (0.10% p.a.) and global track record of reducing costs. By comparison, the largest Australian share ETF (STW) waited 7 years before it lowered its costs from 0.29% to 0.19% in December 2015. It is not surprising that VAS overtook STW in July 2019 this year, as the largest Australian share ETF

  • VAS’s broader ASX/300 exposure compared to STW and IOZ which track the ASX/200
  • VAS’ large size ($4 billion) and liquidity ($12.8m per day)
  • VAS’ low tracking error and slippage (0.04%)
  • VAS’ consistent return history and the 19 year track record of the S&P ASX/300 index

While MVW has had some periods of good relative performance over the last 5 years, we aren’t compelled by the equal-weight strategy or other non-market cap weighted strategies for reasons we explained in ‘Should you buy into smart beta ETFs?‘.

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Where our clients want more exposure to smaller shares we recommend adding a pure small cap tilt using the Vanguard MSCI Australian Small Companies Index ETF (VSO) as a Stockspot Theme. The VSO fund charges 0.30% p.a. and returned 9.55% p.a. over the 3 years to 31 August 2019.

BetaShares’ recently launched A200 has received a large take up over it’s first year. If it can continue to grow assets to become commercially sustainable while also increasing fund liquidity and building a performance track record, it will become an attractive Australian share ETF option.

For now we continue to be confident in recommending VAS to our clients due to its size, commercial viability, liquidity and track record.

As a final note it’s great to see the original Australian share ETF (STW) as well as global ETF giants (VAS and IOZ), different index strategies (MVW) and local disruptors (A200) all have broad Australian share ETFs available.

The Australian ETF ecosystem continues to grow at a rapid pace which is fantastic news for investors.

Find out how Stockspot makes it easy to grow your wealth and invest in your future.


Founder and CEO

Chris has been vocal in calling out the industry 'Fat Cats' and is known for telling it as it is. He sits on two Advisory Committees for the industry regulator ASIC, and was previously a fund manager at UBS. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting/Finance Co-op Scholarship) from UNSW.

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