While the Standard and Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500) has eked out a year-to-date (YTD) gain of 3.04% as of June 2018, its small-capitalization counterpart, the Russell 2000 Index, has provided a gain of over three times that amount – returning 9.77% in the same period. This follows on the back of the Russell 2000's double-digit gains in 2017. (See also: Are Small-Cap Companies More Risky Investments Than Large-Cap Companies?)
Many market analysts and commentators attribute the Russell's outperformance to strong small-cap earnings and revenue growth as well as the recent tax overhaul. "When you have an environment where we're deregulating as opposed to increasing regulations and we're reducing taxes, [small business] managers are going to feel more confident," said Randy Gwirtzman, a co-manager of Baron Discovery Fund, a $226 million fund that focuses on small-cap companies, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Also, U.S. small-cap stocks typically generate most of their revenue domestically, which helps shield them from international trade policy disputes, such as the likely trade war between the United States and China. Furthermore, as most smaller companies don't export significant portions of their products overseas, the stronger U.S. dollar has a limited impact on their bottom line. (For more, see: 3 ETFs to Benefit From China's Tariff Retaliations.)
The iShares Core S&P Small-Cap ETF, created back in 2000, tracks the performance of the S&P SmallCap 600 Index. The fund achieves this by investing the majority of its massive $43.88 billion asset pool in securities that make up the benchmark index. These securities primarily consist of U.S. small-cap stocks that trade with ample liquidity. The ETF has 600 stocks in its portfolio, making it reasonably diversified. Top holdings include Stamps.com Inc. (NASDAQ: STMP), HealthEquity, Inc. (NASDAQ: HQY) and Neogen Corporation (NASDAQ: NEOG).
The iShares Core S&P Small-Cap ETF has an expense ratio of just 0.07%, well below the category average of 0.30%. As of June 2018, IJR has a YTD return of 13.15% and pays investors a 1.13% dividend. (See also: Top 4 Small-Cap Stocks for 2018.)
Launched in 2009, the Schwab US Small-Cap ETF attempts to provide a similar return to the Dow Jones U.S. Small Cap Total Stock Market Index. The benchmark index includes U.S. stocks ranked between 751 and 2,500 by market cap. Weightings are spread relatively evenly across the ETF's basket of 1,733 stocks, with no holding given more than a 0.38% weighting. Top holdings in the ETF's portfolio include GoDaddy Inc. Class A (NYSE: GDDY), GrubHub Inc. (NYSE: GRUB) and Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NKTR).
The Schwab US Small-Cap ETF is smaller than IJR but is still a sizable fund, with assets under management (AUM) of $8.12 billion. Investors pay a low annual management fee of 0.05%. As of June 2018, SCHA has five-, three- and one-year annualized returns of 13.58%, 10.47% and 21.65%, respectively. Year to date, the fund has returned 9.87%. (For more, see: Top 3 Small-Cap ETFs for 2018.)
Formed in 2013, the SPDR Portfolio Small Cap ETF attempts to track the SSGA Small Cap Index. The fund achieves this by investing at least 80% of its assets in securities that are part of the underlying index. The benchmark index includes U.S. stocks ranked between 1,001 and 3,000 by market cap. Asset allocation is spread out across the fund's portfolio of 2,026 stocks; its top five holdings have a cumulative weighting of just 1.24%. Sarepta Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: SRPT) and Wayfair Inc. Class A (NYSE: W) carry the two highest weightings at 0.33% and 0.24%, respectively.
The SPDR Portfolio Small Cap ETF has an asset base of $1.17 billion and charges the same annual fee as SCHA – 0.05%. SPSM has returned 11.29% over the past three years and 10.13% YTD as of June 2018. The fund offers investors a 12-month dividend yield of 1.35%. (See also: 3 Small-Cap Stocks That Can Thrive Amid a Trade War.)
The Direxion Daily Small Cap Bull 3X ETF aims to provide three times (3x) the daily return of the Russell 2000 Index. The fund tracks the underlying index by investing 57.32% of its AUM in an ETF that tracks its benchmark and uses a variety of swaps, which are derivative contracts, to provide leveraged returns.
The Direxion Daily Small Cap Bull 3X ETF has $760.93 million in net assets. The fund is the most expensive of the four with an expense ratio of 1.1% to cover the additional costs of providing leveraged returns. YTD, the fund has returned 27.62% as of June 2018. TNA's tight spreads and ample liquidity make it a suitable short-term trading instrument for traders who seek magnified returns. (For additional reading, check out: Valuing Small-Cap Stocks.)