What is the S&P 500?

Bill Parrott |

What did the market do today? Was it up? Down? When people refer to the “the market” it’s usually the S&P 500® Index. But what is it? It’s a key benchmark money managers, mutual funds, and other professionals use to measure performance.  

The S&P 500® Index is a collection of the 500 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations. It’s a market weighted index meaning the largest companies have the greatest impact on performance – good and bad.  The largest company in the index is Microsoft; the smallest is News Corp. When Microsoft moves, so will the index. The 10 largest companies in the index are Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Alphabet, Exxon Mobil, and Bank of America. The largest sectors are Information Technology, Healthcare and Financials.

Standard & Poor’s launched the now famous index on March 4, 1957. It’s a better gauge of the market because of the breadth of its holdings especially when compared to the Dow Jones Industrial Average which only holds 30 companies.[1] The Dow Jones index was founded in May 1896.

Because of the breadth and consistency over time there are currently $9.9 trillion in assets linked to this index. The most popular one is the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund founded by Mr. John Bogle. Mr. Bogle recently passed away and this put a spotlight on this popular category. Mr. Bogle started the fund in 1976 to a less than stellar opening. His goal was to raise $150 million but he only received $11.4 million – a rounding error on Wall Street.[2] The fund currently has assets of $400 billion! If you had invested $10,000 in this fund when it opened, your account balance would be worth $744,951 today. It has generated an average annual return of 10.71% since its feeble beginning.  

Wall Street was not a fan of Mr. Bogle’s fund because of its low fee structure and average returns. What investor would want to own a fund generating average returns when active fund managers and stock pickers could do so much better? Makes sense. However, active stock pickers rarely outperform the S&P 500® Index. In fact, 91% of active fund managers failed to outperform the S&P 500® over a 10-year period and 95% of funds with high fees lagged this key benchmark. The active managers were below average, well below.[3]

Rather than average returns consider market returns. If you can generate market returns over time, your wealth should grow despite the occasional drop in value or spike in volatility. A low cost, diversified investment like the Vanguard S&P 500® Index Fund is a great candidate for most investors.

As a side note, the S&P 500 owns 505 companies!

Happy Investing.

“The two greatest enemies of the equity fund investor are expenses and emotions.” ~ John C. Bogle

February 1, 2019

Bill Parrott is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ than those posted in this blog.