Although ETFs get onto a lot of news these days, some investors still prefer traditional open-end index funds because it’s easier to set up recurring purchases with them.
Fidelity added some index funds under its Spartan name back in September 2011. I’m considering these because I have accounts at Fidelity. These funds are still quite new with very low assets. As you will see below, they are often 1,000 times smaller than the more established funds and ETFs.
All Spartan index funds come with two share classes. Investor shares require a $10k minimum initial investment. Advantage shares require a $100k minimum initial investment. Advantage shares of course have a lower expense ratio. I’m looking at Investor shares in this post.
Spartan Global ex US Index Fund
This fund invests in international stocks. It tracks the MSCI ACWI ex USA Index. It includes both developed and emerging markets but it does not include international small caps.
The closest match from Vanguard are Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF (VEU) and Vanguard Total International ETF (VXUS). VEU does not include international small caps; VXUS does. Both Vanguard ETFs will cost $8 commission per trade at Fidelity.
|Spartan Global ex US (FSGUX)||Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF (VEU)||Vanguard Total Intl ETF (VXUS)|
|Assets ($ million)||13||6,800||777|
|# of Holdings||1,787||2,337||6,423|
Over the few months since inception, the Spartan Global ex US fund tracked both Vanguard ETFs very closely. It’s a good alternative to Vanguard ETFs.
The 0.24% expense ratio on $13 million in assets only generates $30k a year in revenue for Fidelity. It’s not enough to pay the salary of even one employee.
Spartan Emerging Markets Index Fund
This fund invests in emerging markets stocks. It tracks FTSE Emerging Index. The closest match from Vanguard would be Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF (VWO).
|Spartan Emerging Markets (FPEMX)||Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)|
|Assets ($ million)||54||53,900|
|# of Holdings||713||903|
I don’t know what happened there. There was an almost 3% gap in a few months time. Not that the underperformance is meaningful over such a short time period, the large tracking error makes me want to pay the commission and use the Vanguard ETF VWO.
Spartan Real Estate Index Fund
This fund invests in US real estate stocks. It tracks Dow Jones U.S. Select Real Estate Securities Index. Its closest match from Vanguard would be Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ).
|Spartan Real Estate (FRXIX)||Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)|
|Assets ($ million)||12||12,400|
Another photo finish, but this fund’s expense ratio is double that of the Vanguard ETF. I would still use the Vanguard ETF.
Spartan Mid Cap Index Fund
This fund invests in US mid-cap stocks. It tracks Russell Midcap Index. There is a commission-free ETF alternative: iShares Mid Cap 400 ETF (IJH). The closest match from Vanguard is Vanguard Mid-Cap ETF (VO).
|Spartan Mid Cap (FSCLX)||iShares Mid Cap 400 ETF (IJH)||Vanguard Mid Cap ETF (VO)|
|Assets ($ million)||8||9,934||3,700|
|# of Holdings||783||401||443|
During the 7-month period, the Spartan fund and the Vanguard ETF tracked very closely to each other but there is a visible gap between those two and the iShares ETF. Which is a purer representation of mid cap stocks? I don’t know.
Spartan Small Cap Index Fund
This fund invests in US small cap stocks. It tracks Russell 2000 Index. Commission-free ETF alternatives include iShares S&P 600 ETF (IJR) and iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM). The closest match from Vanguard is Vanguard Small-Cap ETF (VB).
|Spartan Small Cap (FSSPX)||iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM)||iShares S&P Small Cap 600 ETF (IJR)||Vanguard Small-Cap ETF (VB)|
|Assets ($ million)||12||14,206||7,700||4,300|
|# of Holdings||1,946||1,956||601||1,735|
The Spartan small cap fund tracked the iShares Russell 2000 ETF very well. iShares S&P Small Cap 600 ETF did slightly better during the 7-month period. In general I like S&P’s more prudent requirements for inclusion into an index than Russell’s more mechanical approach even though the iShares S&P Small Cap 600 ETF doesn’t hold as many stocks as the other funds.
In summary, here’s my take on these new Spartan index funds:
- Spartan Global ex US Index Fund: OK
- Spartan Emerging Markets Index Fund: Use Vanguard ETF VWO instead
- Spartan Real Estate Index Fund: use Vanguard ETF VNQ instead
- Spartan Mid Cap Index Fund: no opinion; I don’t have a separate allocation for mid caps
- Spartan Small Cap Index Fund: use iShares S&P 600 ETF IJR
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