Australian share ETFs continue to gain in popularity. As of September 2020 there is almost $24 billion invested in ETFs tracking Australian shares, up 19% from the previous year.
Each year we compare all 200+ ETFs in our Australian ETF Report. Here we road test 5 popular Australian share ETFs, comparing them across 6 factors:
ETFs track a market index rather than taking bets on individual companies. For this reason, their management fees are much lower than typical ‘active’ fund managers. Tracking a market ‘index’ also offers the benefits of transparency and potential tax efficiency. ETF investors directly benefit from share capital gains, dividends and franking credits paid by shares contained within an ETF.
See our ETF Performance Comparison Tables to see all categories.
|ASX code||ETF name||Size ($M)*|
|STW||SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF||3,508|
|VAS||Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF||5,748|
|IOZ||iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF||2,890|
|MVW||VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF||1,167|
|A200||BetaShares Australia 200 ETF||809|
*Total fund assets under management at 30 September 2020
VAS and STW are the largest Australian share ETFs managing $5.7 and $3.5 billion respectively. MVW has been growing fast and now manages over $1 billion while the newly launched A200 ETF from BetaShares debued in May 2018 with $50 million under management and has since grown to $809 million.
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.
|ASX code||ETF name||MER (% p.a.)|
|STW||SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF||0.13|
|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. After many years of sitting on their hands, STW have reduced it’s fee to 0.13% in March 2020. We expect the fee war to continue.
These 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.
STW and VAS are the most profitable ETFs, earning ~$5 million in revenue per year, more than enough to be sustainable. On the other hand the recently launched A200 is earning ~$460,000 p.a. in fees based on its $800m AUM. BetaShares will be hoping it can continue to amass significant funds so that fee revenue allows this product to be financially viable for them.
Read about how Stockspot takes the guesswork out of choosing ETFs and builds you a diversified portfolio online.
The 3 lowest cost ETFs are now within 0.03% p.a. of each other on fees. That’s great news because costs are one of the only factors you can fully control when investing in Australian shares. The less you pay a fund, the more of the returns you keep in your pocket.
That said, costs have converged to the point where investors need to carefully consider other factors including the funds commercial viability, liquidity and track record.
|ASX code||ETF name||% Spread|
|STW||SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF||0.04|
|VAS||Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF||0.03|
|IOZ||iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF||0.06|
|MVW||VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF||0.10|
|A200||BetaShares Australia 200 ETF||0.06|
Slippage refers to how much you lose by crossing the spread when buying or selling an ETF. It’s calculated by the average percentage difference between the best buyer and seller during market hours.
It has more of an impact if you’re trading an ETF or making regular contributions because you’ll need to cross the spread more often to get invested. VAS currently has the lowest slippage at 0.03% (three hundredths of one percent) followed closely by STW at 0.04%.
By comparison the average Australian Equity managed fund offered on the ASX mFunds platform charges a bid/ask spread of 0.55% which is more than 18x more than VAS! ETFs have much lower slippage than most active funds which means investors aren’t starting behind the 8 ball when they invest.
|ASX code||ETF name||Daily Transacted Value ($)|
|STW||SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF||14,934,086|
|VAS||Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF||17,531,359|
|IOZ||iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF||46,674,306|
|MVW||VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF||2,754,439|
|A200||BetaShares Australia 200 ETF||4,464,608|
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.
VAS has historically had the highest liquidity, but as of September 2020 was secondary to IOZ who traded over with over $46 million per day. This is likely due to a large institution buying IOZ over the month. VAS and STW are behind followed by A200 and MVW.
|ASX code||ETF name||5 Year Total Return p.a.|
|STW||SPDR S&P/ASX 200 ETF||7.11%|
|VAS||Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF||7.33%|
|IOZ||iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF||7.10%|
|MVW||VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF||8.98%|
|A200||BetaShares Australia 200 ETF||–|
Total return to 30 September 2020
The 3 largest ETFs all generated similar returns over the last 5 years with IOZ and STW both returning ~7% p.a. VAS has done a bit better given its broader exposure with a 5 year return of 7.3% p.a. MVW the highest at 8.98% p.a. given it’s skew to smaller companies. A200 recently listed so doesn’t have 5 years of performance yet.
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 the last year and 3 years, MVW has performed similarly to VAS, STW and IOZ.
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 5 years VAS has generated 7.33% p.a. in returns compared to the benchmark (S&P ASX/300) which has delivered 7.42% 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||20 years|
|VAS||Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF||20 years|
|IOZ||iShares Core S&P/ASX 200 ETF||20 years|
|MVW||VanEck Vectors Australian Equal Weight ETF||17 years|
|A200||BetaShares Australia 200 ETF||2 years|
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 and then another 5 years to reduce to 0.13%. It is not surprising that VAS overtook STW in July 2019, 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 ($5.7 billion) and liquidity ($17.5m per day)
- VAS’ low tracking error and slippage
- VAS’ consistent return history and the 20 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?‘.
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 10.98% p.a. over the 5 years to 30 September 2020, outperforming MVW.
BetaShares’ recently launched A200 has received a large take up over it’s first couple years. 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.