What Is The Best ETF And Mutual Fund?

There are many ETF databases out there.Morningstar covers mutual funds very well. But what are the BEST ETFs and mutual funds and how do you measure them?

This post was inspired by Paul Merriman who has for many years recommendedETFs and mutual funds to implement his portfolio strategies. We have expanded on the “Best In Class” concept to include many more asset classes.

The first thing you should know is that there is rarelyONE best ETF or fund. It all depends on a host of variables:

  • Your goals
  • Your portfolio
  • Your tax situation
  • Your broker (some funds are commission-free).
  • Subjective opinionabout the data.

There are A LOT of really, really BAD ETFs and mutual funds out there. Make sure you avoid the worst by picking one of the ETFs below.

As of 2021 we now also track ESG funds. We also track the dividend yields and expense ratios for all funds.

To find out more about ESG investing check out our articleESG Investment Portfolios On Portfolio Einstein.

Article contents

Best ETF and Mutual Fund for each asset class

Below you can see which ETFs and mutual funds that we recommend for each asset class.

The ETFs and Mutual funds have been selected by these criteria

  • The funds must have a low tracking error. The fund must track its underlying index very closely or it is of no use.
  • The funds must have low fees. Low expense ratios win the day and areone of the best indicators of performance.
  • The funds must have a low bid/ask spread. This is relevant for ETFs that trade on the open market. If the gap (spread)of the buy and sell price is too great it imposes an additional cost to the investor. Therefore the lower the bid/ask spread, the better. The best indicator of a low spread is to see many shares being traded everyday.
  • The fund must have high liquidity. This means how many shares of the fund are being traded every day. A good fund needs tens of thousands of shares traded every day.
  • The holdings of the fund need to be tradeable. The holdings of the fund need to be liquid so that the fund can sell and buy the underlying assets that the strategy demands. We don’t want our funds to be forced sellers as that never ends well.
  • The fund needs to have a low turnover rate. Every time a fund buys and sells the underlying stock it could be exposing itself to capital gain taxes. Those taxes are channeled to the investor, so you want as low turnover as possible.

Together these factors decide if the fund represents the appropriate asset class the best.

How to verify and do your own research

Morningstar.com is a great resource to research ETFs and mutual funds. If you want to research U.S. small-cap value ETFs you could look up VIOV, VBR, and SLYV (among others) on morningstar.com. Click the portfolio tab and you get an overview of what’s in the fund. Here are the 3 funds as of 2018:

VIOV:Vanguard S&P Small-Cap 600 Value Index Fund ETF Shares

VBR:Vanguard Small-Cap Value Index Fund ETF Shares

SLYV:SPDR® S&P 600 Small Cap Value ETF

As you can see VBR has some attributes that make it a poor candidate for representing the small-capvalue asset class:

  • It has style drifted. It has gone from a small-cap fund in 2017 to a mid-cap fund in 2018.
  • The average size of the holdings are more than twice that of SLYV and VIOV.

I cheated a little and selected two funds, SLYV and VIOV, that both track the same index. They track the S&P Small-Cap 600 Value Index.

Next, you want to check:

  • Fees (under fees & expenses), lower is better.
  • Turnover rate(under fees & expenses), lower is better.

Super important note:

Notice that a return comparison doesn’t even factor in when we are comparing funds. If we follow the above guidelines we would select the best funds and therefore theoretically get the appropriate returns for that asset class. Sure some funds may beat other funds within the same category, but chasing performance is a loser’s game.

If you find that you have found two equally good funds and can’t decide on which one – BUY THEM BOTH. No need to agonize over which funds to select. The commissions on buying and selling is cheap and often free. It is a very small price to pay to avoid regret.

Summary and next steps

It is not easy finding the BEST ETF or mutual fund. But it is easy to AVOID the worst. By using a few simple metrics and Morningstar you can narrow down the field to just a few. While finding the best fund may be impossible, it is often to find one that is good enough.