SPY vs. VOO: Is There Actually A Difference Between These ETFs?

4 min read
Adam Koprucki
Written by
Jeremy Flint Bio Image
Reviewed by

At no extra cost to you, some or all of the products featured below are from partners who may compensate us for your click. It's how we make money. This does not influence our recommendations or editorial integrity, but it does help us keep the site running.

SPY vs. VOO: The Ultimate Showdown of Two Heavyweight ETFs. Which One Deserves a Spot in Your Investment Portfolio?

Features
SPY
VOO
Inception Date
  • January 1993
  • September 2010
Issuer
  • State Street Global Advisors
  • Vanguard
Gross Expense Ratio
  • 0.09%
  • 0.03%
10 Year Returns
  • +14.55%
  • +14.47%
Total Assets
  • $362 Billion
  • $739 Billion
Average Daily Volume
  • 74,076,818
  • 3,957,740

If you want to learn how to invest in index funds, two great options are SPY and VOO, exchange-traded funds that track the S&P 500.

In this blog post, we’ll explain the similarities and differences between these two investments.

Let’s get into it.

What is VOO?

VOO is the ticker symbol for the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF. Similar to SPY, it’s an exchange-traded fund that aims to track the performance of the S&P 500 Index. The index comprises 500 of the largest U.S. publicly traded companies, covering a broad swath of the American economy.

Vanguard is known for its low-cost investment products, and VOO is no exception. Its expense ratio is lower than that of other S&P 500 ETFs like SPY, making it a popular choice for cost-conscious investors.

Both retail and institutional investors often include VOO in their portfolios for diversified exposure to the U.S. stock market. It’s a straightforward way to invest in a broad range of companies without picking individual stocks.

VOO can be a core holding in a long-term investment strategy due to its diversification and low cost. It’s also useful for those looking to implement strategies like dollar-cost averaging or passive investing.

You can visit Vanguard’s official page for the VOO ETF: Vanguard S&P 500 ETF for more details.

What is SPY?

SPY is the ticker symbol for the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust. This exchange-traded fund (ETF) tracks the S&P 500 index.

The S&P 500 index includes 500 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. The SPY ETF aims to mimic its performance. It’s one of the most popular and highly traded ETFs in the market.

Investors often use SPY as a quick way to get exposure to the U.S. stock market. It’s considered a relatively low-cost and efficient way to diversify your portfolio.

For more in-depth information, visit SPDR’s official page on SPY: SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust.

How Are They Different?

While SPY and VOO both track the returns of the S&P 500, there are some key differences between these two funds.

Structure

The main difference between SPY and VOO is how the two funds are structured.

VOO is an ETF managed by Vanguard, known for its passive index-tracking investment approach. State Street Global Advisors manage SPY, and the fund is structured as a unit investment trust (UIT), which has certain tax advantages but can also result in tracking errors compared to its benchmark index.

Expense Ratio

The expense ratio is the annual fee charged by the fund to cover operating expenses like management fees, administrative expenses, and other costs. It is expressed as a percentage of the fund’s assets under management.

As of this writing, the expense ratios for VOO and SPY are as follows:

  • VOO Expense Ratio: 0.03%. This means that for every $10,000 invested in VOO, the annual management fee would be $3.
  • SPY Expense Ratio: 0.09%. This means that for every $10,000 invested in SPY, the annual management fee would be $9.

So, VOO has a lower expense ratio than SPY, making it a more cost-effective option for investors who want to track the S&P 500 index. It’s not a huge difference, but it can lead to a substantial investment amount of investment profit you are leaving on the table over time.

However, it is important to note that the performance of VOO and SPY may differ due to differences in their tracking methodology and other factors, such as trading volume and liquidity.

Liquidity

Another key difference between VOO and SPY is liquidity. Liquidity is how much trading volume there is for a particular stock, ETF, or option.

SPY has historically had higher trading volumes and greater liquidity than VOO due to its longer history as the first ETF tracking the S&P 500 index.

As of this writing, the average daily trading volume for SPY is approximately 60 million shares, while the average daily trading volume for VOO is around 3.5 million shares. This means that there are more shares of SPY changing hands on the stock exchange each day, indicating greater liquidity for the fund

For your average investor, liquidity is not a huge concern. Still, if you are an active trader, it could impact your ability to easily buy and sell securities without impacting the price, which brings me to my next point…

Bid-Ask Spread

The bid/ask spread is the difference between the highest price a buyer is willing to pay for a security (the bid price) and the lowest price a seller is willing to accept for the same security (the asking price).

The bid/ask spread represents the cost of trading security and is expressed in terms of “pips” (percentage in point) or “cents” for stocks and ETFs.

The main driver behind ask/spread is liquidity. Because VOO has less liquidity(trading volume), the price between what someone will buy/sell VOO is much wider compared to SPY.

  • The Bid/Ask is 20 basis points wide for VOO.
  • The Bid/Ask for SPY is 6 basis points wide.

Again, this does not mean much for the buy-and-hold investor and can largely be ignored. However, active investors should always consider the bid/ask spread when trading securities, as it can impact the overall cost of the trade. It is recommended to use limit orders when trading to help ensure that the trade is executed at a desired price, rather than paying the spread.

Dividend Yield

Both VOO and SPY are ETFs that track the S&P 500 index, which is comprised of 500 large-cap US companies. As such, they both offer dividend yields based on the dividends paid by the underlying companies in the index.

As of this writing, the dividend yield for VOO is approximately 1.36%, while the dividend yield for SPY is approximately 1.35%. This means that for every $10,000 invested in VOO or SPY, investors can expect to receive an annual dividend payment of approximately $136 or $135, respectively.

  • VOO Dividend Yield: 1.36%
  • SPY Dividend Yield: 1.35%

The slight difference in dividend yield between VOO and SPY is likely due to differences in the fund’s holdings, such as differences in the timing and amount of dividends paid by individual companies in the index. However, overall, the dividend yields for both funds are relatively low compared to some other asset classes, such as high-yield bonds or dividend-paying stocks.

It is important to note that dividends are not guaranteed and can be affected by various factors, such as changes in company earnings, economic conditions, and government policies. As such, investors should not solely rely on dividends for income and should consider other factors, such as capital appreciation and diversification, when making investment decisions.

Returns

10-year returns show VOO outperformed SPY by .08%.

Not surprising given the fact that VOO has a lower expense ratio.

ReturnsVOO
Vanguard S&P 500 ETF
SPY
SPDR® S&P 500 ETF Trust
1-Month-2.98%-2.95%
3-Month-3.88%-3.81%
5-Year+15.14%+15.08%
10-Year+14.55%+14.47%
Source: TD Ameritrade as of March 27th, 2022

How Are They The Same?

While there are several differences between SPY and VOO, there are also some similarities.

Tracking

SPY and VOO seek to track the performance of the Standard & Poor‘s 500 Index, which measures the investment return of large-capitalization stocks.

Both ETFs seek to achieve their investment objective by holding a portfolio of the common stocks included in the index, with the weight of each stock in the Portfolio substantially corresponding to the weight of such stock in the index.

VOO and SPY are both designed to track returns, including dividends of the S&P 500, which is a composite of the 500 largest publicly traded companies by market capitalization. Both VOO and SPY Top 10 Holdings are the same companies with almost identical weighting with minor differences, likely due to tracking error.

SPY and VOO Top 10 Holdings

VOOSPY
AAPL 6.9%
MSFT 6.0%
AMZN 3.6%
GOOGL 2.2%
GOOG 2.0%
TSLA 1.9%
NVDA 1.6%
BRK.B 1.6%
FB 1.3%
UNH 1.2%
AAPL 6.9%
MSFT 6.1%
AMZN 3.6%
GOOGL 2.2%
GOOG 2.0%
TSLA 1.9%
NVDA 1.6%
BRK.B 1.6%
FB 1.3%
UNH 1.2%

Other S&P 500 ETFs

While VOO and SPY are the most popular S&P 500 funds, a handful of other companies also have S&P 500 Tracking Funds.

All 4 ETFs seek to track the performance of the Standard & Poor‘s 500 Index, which measures the investment return of large-capitalization stocks, with very little difference.

The one outlier is SPLG. This index fund generally invests substantially all, but at least 80%, of its total assets in the securities comprising the index, so you might see some discrepancies in returns and price compared to SPY and VOO.

FeatureSPY
SPDR® S&P 500 ETF Trust
VOO
Vanguard S&P 500 ETF
IVV
iShares Core S&P 500 ETF
SPLG
SPDR® Portfolio S&P 500 ETF
Expense Ratio09%.03%.03%.03%
IssuerState Street Global AdvisorsVanguardBlackRockState Street Global Advisors
Average Market Cap$207.1B$207.4B$207.1B$207.2
Inception Date01/22/199309/07/201005/15/20001/08/2005
Sales Load?No-loadNo-loadNo-loadNo-load
Source: TD Ameritrade

The Bottom Line

If you are a buy-and-hold investor, VOO is the better option.

If you want to become an investor, is critical to educate yourself about various investment options, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

That said, VOO has a lower expense ratio, higher dividend yield, and slightly higher returns than SPY. But, if you are an active trader, specifically an options trader, SPY is the far superior option. The SPY ETF has far tighter bid/ask spreads in its ETF and underlying options market due to its much higher daily trading volume.

Adam Koprucki

Expertise: Fixed-income investing, Macroeconomics, Personal Finance, Derivatives, Options, Index Funds

Professional Experience: J.P. Morgan, Deloitte Consulting, Societe Generale, The Vanguard Group

Education: Loyola University: Bachelor of Business Administration, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Certificate in Capital Markets

Adam Koprucki is the founder of Real World Investor, an investing website dedicated to reviewing the newest and latest investing tools and providing unique market insights for beginner to intermediate investors.

Before starting Real World Investor, he spent over a decade working at some of the world's largest investment banks and investment managers, such as Citibank, J.P. Morgan, Societe Generale, Deloitte, and The Vanguard Group.

His experience includes working with complex financial products such as exotic interest rate derivatives, structured products, and structured credit.

A dedicated and enthusiastic investor, he is passionate about macroeconomics and options trading. His investing insights have been published on Investopedia, Yahoo Finance, Seeking Alpha, GoBankingRates, Nasdaq, and Bigger Pockets.

He is also a contributing author at Equities.com.

Leave a Comment

Opt-in Form

How Much Do You Know About Investing?

Take our investing quiz and see how you stack up