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S&P 500 Index


The S&P 500 index, which tracks the stocks of 500 of the largest U.S. companies by market capitalization, is commonly used as a benchmark to measure how the U.S. stock market is doing overall.

Also known as:Formerly called the Composite Index and later Standard & Poor's Composite Index
First Seen:1923

The S&P 500 Index, also referred to as the Standard and Poor's 500 Index, tracks the stocks of 500 of the largest U.S. companies by market capitalization. The S&P 500 index is commonly used as a benchmark to measure how the U.S. stock market is doing overall.

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What criteria must companies meet to be in the S&P 500?

Some of the largest companies in the United States make up the S&P 500 Index. However, in order to be included in the S&P 500 Index, a company must meet the following requirements:

  • Be headquartered in the U.S.
  • Be listed on an eligible U.S. exchange
  • Offer common stock and be organized as a corporation
  • Have a market capitalization of at least $14.6 billion
  • Have reported positive earnings in the most recent quarter
  • Have positive earnings over the previous four quarters

Types of companies that make up the S&P 500

The S&P 500 consists of 500 different types of companies, including some of the most well-established and prominent businesses in the U.S. that are open for public trading. These companies include:

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Alphabet Inc. (Class A)
  • Alphabet Inc. (Class C)
  • Tesla, Inc
  • Berkshire Hathaway (Class B)
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • UnitedHealth Group, Inc.
  • NVIDIA Corporation

This list of companies is reviewed and updated quarterly to reflect the most accurate results. Additionally, because some companies issue multiple classes of shares, the list actually comprises 503 stocks and not 500.
The 11 different sectors of the S&P 500
The S&P 500 breaks down into the following 11 sectors:

  • Information technology
  • Healthcare
  • Financials
  • Consumer discretionary
  • Industrials
  • Communication services
  • Consumer staples
  • Energy
  • Real estate
  • Materials
  • Utilities
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What does the S&P 500 track?

The market capitalization (or the "market cap") of a company is calculated by taking the number of outstanding stock shares a business has and multiplying it by the current stock price. Consequently, if a company has 1 million outstanding stock shares, and the current price is $6, then the business's market capitalization is $6 million, which means that the business has a value of $6 million.

However, to calculate the S&P 500's value, each company's market capitalization is adjusted to consider only the number of publicly traded shares. This means that each company in the index is given a specific weighting, calculated by dividing the company's individual market capitalization by the S&P 500's total market cap. This indicates that businesses with large market capitalization are weighted more heavily than those that have small market capitalization.

However, to determine the figure that is shown on the S&P 500 ticker, the index's total market capitalization is divided by a proprietary divisor that is not released to the public. It should also be noted that as the share prices of the companies indicated on the index fluctuate during the day, each variation will have an influence on the value of the S&P 500 index, with the corporations near the top of the list having a more significant effect than those at the bottom.

The S&P 500 vs. the Nasdaq and the Dow Jones

Another common U.S. stock market index is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), also known as the Dow. However, there are some major differences between the the Dow and the S&P 500 index. The Dow index

  • consists of only 30 companies that are regarded as industry leaders.
  • represents only nine sectors.
  • is not weighted based on the market capitalization but rather on the share price of each company, which means that businesses with a higher share price are given more weight.

Although both the S&P 500 and the Dow help investors see how the healthiest corporations in the country are performing, the S&P 500 is usually the preferred index because of its depth of information and its overall representation since it is made up of stocks from across many different sectors.

The Nasdaq

The Nasdaq is a global marketplace for buying and selling stocks and bonds, also known as securities. There are two Nasdaq indexes which are commonly used. The Nasdaq Composite includes more than 2,500 common stocks that are traded on the Nasdaq, whereas the Nasdaq 100 index includes 100 of the largest, most actively traded securities listed on Nasdaq.

Each company has a market capitalization value, which places a monetary value on a company’s outstanding stock, and which determines the value of the stock. This index is a capitalization-weighted index, meaning that components are weighted according to their market capitalization. Companies with higher weighted values indicate better value for the stock buyer.

Because the Nasdaq has more technology stocks, it is more of a technology index. As a result, those looking for greater exposure to the technology sector may prefer the Nasdaq Composite to the S&P 500.

The Russell indexes

The Russell indexes provide investors with a wide-ranging guide for determining stock market health. The Russell 2000 index is a performance benchmark for small-cap stocks in the U.S. The Russell 1000 is the closest to the S&P 500 because it is a large-cap stock index that lists 1,000 stocks and represents almost 93% of the stock market. Together, the Russell 1000 and the Russell 2000 make up the Russell 3000, which provides a broad stock market benchmark index.

Why do we have the S&P 500?

Because the S&P 500 is designed to track the stock market in the United States, it ultimately ends up measuring the overall health of the equity market and provides a stock market index that individuals and investors can track.
In addition, although people cannot invest directly in the index, they can buy into an index fund that tracks it, or stock in the companies that make up the index.
This kind of investment is regarded as a low-risk strategy for long-term returns, as the U.S. stock market has always increased in value over 10-year periods. This makes the S&P 500 a good choice for investors who want a low-risk investment, such as pension funds.

Can you invest in the S&P 500 index?

If you want to invest in companies in the S&P 500 index but do not want to have to pick them individually , you may want to consider investing in an S&P 500 index fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that can help you gain exposure to these different stocks. These index funds are designed to closely follow the overall performance of the S&P 500.

However, to invest in this index by either buying stocks of the individual companies in the index or investing in the index funds, you need to first open a brokerage account and an investment account, where you can buy these stocks or funds.

After you fund the account, you may choose your investments. If you decide to invest money in an S&P 500 fund, this option will help you diversify your portfolio and will be much less risky than investing in individual stocks. Once you decide where to invest, you can then proceed with the transaction.

For example, the Vanguard S&P 500 fund and the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares mutual fund are two great options if you want to venture into investments in ETFs or index funds. Both have very low fees and will often yield results, over time, that are identical to the S&P 500 index.

Investing in an S&P 500 index fund or an ETF

Index funds and ETFs are both great for new investors. However, there are some major differences between the two. For instance, one of the primary differences is that index funds can only be traded at the end of the trading day, while ETFs can be traded anytime throughout the day. In addition, ETFs can have a lower minimum investment and are more tax-efficient than other index funds.

An ETF exposes investors to all types of stocks in the index. Yet, because they trade throughout the day as do stocks, they are highly liquid and are subject to intraday price fluctuations. On the other hand, S&P 500 index funds sometimes have higher fees than ETFs, though both have relatively low expense ratios in comparison to other types of investment.

Despite their differences, ETFs and index funds share many similarities, including low investment costs, long-term solid returns and diversification opportunities.
How much does it cost to invest in the S&P 500?

If you are purchasing an index fund, then you can purchase any dollar amount if the index fund has no minimum. However, if there is a minimum, then you will have to buy at least the base amount. If the index fund has an expense ratio, a fee will be involved.

If you are purchasing an S&P 500 ETF, keep in mind that ETFs have a share price and trade similarly to other stocks. Consequently, depending on your broker, you will have to pay the total share price, or you can buy fractional shares for any dollar amount. In addition, ETFs will also have expense ratios.

If you are purchasing stocks within the S&P 500, the cost of stocks will typically vary significantly. For instance, some stocks can cost under $10 per share, while others run hundreds of dollars per share.
The pros and cons of investing in the S&P 500
Investing in the S&P 500 allows investors to embark on a diversified investment strategy, primarily because the United States has one of the largest economies in the world and one of the most active. That is why it is an obvious choice for both new investors and experts to invest in the S&P 500 and make it a part of their portfolio.

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Advantages of investing in the S&P 500

Investing in the S&P 500 gives investors exposure to some of the most successful and dynamic companies, including Tesla and Google.
Investing in the S&P 500 provides consistent long-term returns since the S&P 500 is considered a consistent performer.
When you invest in an S&P 500 ETF or index fund, you will not have to spend a substantial amount of time analyzing different stocks to determine which ones are the best investment options.

Investing in the S&P 500 allows you to have ownership in many companies at the same time since you will have a stake in hundreds of stocks, even when you own only one share of the index fund.

Because of the low cost of index funds, investing in the S&P 500 allows you to invest more of your money rather than using a portion of it to pay fees to fund managers.
It is easier to invest in S&P 500 index funds than it is to buy stocks since it does not require much time or excessive knowledge to figure out how to proceed.
Your returns will usually depend on the performance of the S&P 500, which has consistently seen approximately 10% annual growth, on average, over long periods of time.

Disadvantages of investing in the S&P 500

If you are looking to completely diversify your portfolio, investing in the S&P 500 may not be the best option since this index will only consist of large-cap U.S. stocks.

The S&P 500 index does not expose you to small-cap and mid-cap stocks that can grow much more quickly than large-cap stocks.
The S&P 500 does not include international companies but rather only companies located in the United States, meaning investors can miss out on numerous investment opportunities.

However, all things considered, the drawbacks of investing in the S&P 500 are minor compared to other investment types, especially if you use this investment opportunity as part of your overall portfolio.

S&P 500 key takeaways

If you wish to diversify your investment portfolio, then choosing an S&P 500 ETF or a mutual fund can be a great opportunity, as long as you understand your overall goals and how much you can afford. Thankfully, when you invest in the S&P 500, you can usually expect consistent returns since, over the long haul, the S&P has delivered significant returns on investment.