Exchange-traded fund (ETF) managers have to make decisions about how they’ll choose what shares to buy for their fund and how many of those shares they should buy. There are a few different ways to make this choice.
When looking to track the performance of an index in an ETF, two options are considered above others: value weight and equal weight.
Value-weighted ETFs (sometimes known as cap-weighted) buy shares in businesses in proportion to those companies’ overall value. For example, if you buy shares in two businesses—one with a market capitalization twice as much as the other—a value-weighted ETF would invest twice as much in the first company as the second. This places more emphasis on larger companies in the ETF’s portfolio.
A company’s market capitalization is its overall value, found by multiplying its share price by the number of shares outstanding.
Equal-weighted, or equal-weight, ETFs invest an equal amount in every company in the fund’s portfolio, regardless of market capitalization. This results in more emphasis on smaller businesses owned by the fund.
Below, you’ll find some of the best equal-weight ETFs to consider, presented in no particular order and based on the fund’s costs, historical performance, liquidity, and more.
|ETF Name||AUM (as of Dec. 8, 2021)||Expense Ratio||Inception Date|
|Invesco S&P 500 Equal-Weight ETF (RSP)||$30.8 billion||0.20%||April 24, 2003|
|First Trust Nasdaq-100 Equal-Weighted Index Fund (QQEW)||$1.4 billion||0.58%||April 19, 2006|
|First Trust Dow 30 Equal-Weight ETF (EDOW)||$130.9 million||0.50%||Aug. 8, 2017|
|SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI)||$6.7 billion||0.35%||Jan. 31, 2006|
|SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (XAR)||$1.1 billion||0.35%||Sept. 28, 2011|
|ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK)||$2.3 billion||0.60%||Nov. 11, 2014|
Invesco S&P 500 Equal-Weight ETF (RSP)
- Three-year return (as of Sept. 30, 2021): 14.10%
- Expense ratio: 0.20%
- Assets under management (as of Dec. 8, 2021): $30.8 billion
- Inception date: April 24, 2003
The Invesco S&P 500 Equal-Weight ETF (RSP) is an index ETF that aims to purchase shares in each business of the S&P 500. The S&P 500 is composed of 500 of the largest businesses in the U.S. and is often seen as a bellwether for the U.S. economy.
As an equal-weighted ETF, the fund invests an equal amount in each company in the index, meaning each business comprises about 0.2% to 0.3% of the fund’s portfolio. Some of the top holdings include Dollar Tree Inc., Ford Motor Company, and Devon Energy Corporation.
With a low expense ratio of 0.20%—$2 for every $1,000 invested—and more than $30 billion under the fund’s management, you may feel comfortable investing due to the fund’s low cost and high liquidity.
First Trust Nasdaq-100 Equal Weighted Index Fund (QQEW)
- Three-year return (as of Sept. 30, 2021): 21.04%
- Expense ratio: 0.58%
- Assets under management (as of Dec. 8, 2021): $1.4 billion
- Inception date: April 19, 2006
The Nasdaq-100 is an index that tracks roughly 100 of the largest non-financial businesses that are listed on the Nasdaq. This includes both U.S. companies and ones from other countries.
While the Nasdaq-100 is market-capitalization weighted, the First Trust Nasdaq-100 Equal Weighted Index Fund (QQEW) invests an equal amount in each company, placing more emphasis on the smaller firms in the index. Top holdings include Dollar Tree Inc., Xilinx, Inc., and Marvell Technology Inc.
The expense ratio of 0.58%, equal to $5.80 for every $1,000 invested in the fund, is on the high end for the funds on our list, but the fund also has more than $1 billion in assets. While it’s less than a few other funds on our list, you should still be able to easily buy and sell shares with this level of liquidity.
First Trust Dow 30 Equal Weight ETF (EDOW)
- Three-year return (as of Sept. 30, 2021): 10.32%
- Expense ratio: 0.50%
- Assets under management (as of Dec. 8, 2021): $130.9 million
- Inception date: Aug. 8, 2017
The First Trust Dow 30 Equal Weight ETF (EDOW) is a fund that focuses on businesses that are included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, also known as the Dow. The Dow includes 30 of the largest businesses in the U.S. and is used by many as an indicator of the nation’s economic health.
Although the Dow focuses on large companies and is weighted based on their share prices, this fund invests equal amounts in each of its components. Top holdings include The Home Depot, Chevron, UnitedHealth Group, Apple, and Microsoft.
This ETF charges an expense ratio of 0.50%, equal to $5 for every $1,000 invested. However, one thing you should note is that the fund has fewer assets under management than others on our list. This means that there could be liquidity issues that make it more difficult to buy or sell shares.
SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI)
- Three-year return (as of Sept. 30, 2021): 9.53%
- Expense ratio: 0.35%
- Assets under management (as of Dec. 8, 2021): $6.7 billion
- Inception date: Jan. 31, 2006
The SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI) is an ETF that buys shares in biotech companies included in the S&P Biotechnology Select Industry index. Investors can use the fund to get exposure specifically to biotech firms. It is not fully equally weighted, but uses a modification of equal weighting to ensure you get exposure to businesses of all market capitalizations.
This ETF is the second-largest equal-weighted ETF on our list, with more than $6 billion in assets under management, so you may not need to worry about a lack of liquidity. It also charges a reasonable 0.35% expense ratio, equal to $3.50 for every $1,000 invested, which is on the lower end for the ETFs on this list.
SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF (XAR)
- Three-year return (as of Sept. 30, 2021): 7.12%
- Expense ratio: 0.35%
- Assets under management (as of Dec. 8, 2021): $1.1 billion
- Inception date: Sept. 28, 2011
The aerospace and defense industries are major parts of the U.S. economy. The federal government often awards contracts worth billions of dollars to aerospace and defense companies as part of its more than $750 billion in annual defense spending.
The SPDR S&P Aerospace and Defense ETF (XAR) lets you get exposure to this massive industry without investing too much in larger defense firms. While Lockheed Martin and Boeing are included in its holdings, the ETF also includes Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. and Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc., among others.
With an expense ratio of 0.35%, equal to $3.50 for every $1,000 invested just like the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI), and more than $1 billion invested in the fund, you can likely buy shares without paying significant fees or worrying about liquidity.
ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK)
- Three-year return (as of Sept. 30, 2021): 15.93%
- Expense ratio: 0.60%
- Assets under management (as of Dec. 8, 2021): $2.3 billion
- Inception date: Nov. 11, 2014
Cybersecurity is a growing concern for businesses and governments around the world; 2021 alone saw multiple cyberattacks in the U.S. that shut down pipelines, stole cryptocurrency, and leaked massive amounts of sensitive data.
The ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF (HACK) gives you a way to invest in cybersecurity businesses and technology. As more and more groups learn of the threats posed by hacking, this industry may be poised to grow and become even more important.
This ETF has a slightly higher expense ratio than some other funds on our list: 0.60% or $6 for every $1,000 invested. However, that cost is still less than the costs incurred by investing in some actively managed ETFs. This ETF also has more than $2 billion in assets under management, which means you shouldn’t face liquidity problems. Top holdings include Cisco Systems, Cloudflare, and Palo Alto Networks.
Pros and Cons of Investing in Equal-Weighted ETFs
- More diversification
- Greater emphasis on smaller businesses
- Higher historic returns
- Higher costs
- Larger businesses are often seen as more stable
- More diversification: With cap-weighted ETFs, more money is invested in the larger companies. In some cases, such as the S&P 500, this can lead to just a few shares making up more than half of the portfolio. Equal-weighted ETFs don’t have that and are equally invested in more companies.
- Greater emphasis on smaller businesses: You may prefer to invest more in smaller businesses because you may feel they have greater potential returns. Equal-weight ETFs offer an easy way to do this.
- Higher historic returns: Historically, some equal-weight ETFs have outperformed equivalent cap-weighted ETFs. For example, $100 invested in the S&P 500 Equal Weight Index (EWI) in 2003 would have been worth $475 by 2016. That same $100 invested in the S&P 500 in 2003 would have only been worth $340 by 2016.
- Higher costs: Equal-weight ETFs may have higher management fees than cap-weighted ETFs. This could partially be due to the increased turnover in their portfolios.
- Larger businesses are often seen as more stable: Some investors prefer to invest more in larger companies due to their perceived stability. Equal-weight ETFs reduce the amount invested in the larger, potentially more-stable companies in the fund.
Historical Performance Trends
There have been equal-weight ETFs that have outperformed capitalization- or value-weighted ETFs, but likely at the cost of greater volatility. This is in line with typical perceptions about the difference between large-cap and small-cap businesses. Equal-weight ETFs tend to emphasize small-cap businesses more than large caps. Small-cap businesses are often seen as having more potential growth than other more well-established large-cap companies. While the potentially higher returns are there, equal-weight ETFs could also see the opposite happen if small-cap companies struggle.
Is an Equal-Weighted ETF Right for You?
If you’re looking for a way to invest in an index or industry without putting the majority of your money into the largest businesses in that industry, equal-weight ETFs might be a good fit. They can offer many of the benefits of investing in small-cap companies while still letting you get exposure to larger businesses.
The Bottom Line
Equal-weighted ETFs aim to invest equal amounts in each company in their portfolio. This differs from cap-weighted ETFs, which invest more into the businesses that are worth more. This effectively places more emphasis on the smaller companies included in the ETF’s portfolio. which can increase returns, but also potential volatility.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do equal-weighted ETFs work?
Equal-weighted ETFs work like normal ETFs except they aim to invest equal amounts in each company included in the fund’s portfolio.
How can you invest in equal-weighted ETFs?
You can invest in an equal-weighted ETF by purchasing shares through your brokerage account. Some brokers run their own lines of ETFs, so you may want to select your broker based on the ETFs you want to buy.
When should you buy equal-weighted ETFs?
One of the hardest parts of investing is figuring out when to buy or sell shares. Timing the market is difficult, if not impossible, and you need to be willing to accept volatility and risk when you invest in any ETF. You should always invest with the long term in mind, and make sure to only invest money you can afford to lose.
The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Market Indices.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
Invesco. “Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
Nasdaq. “Nasdaq-100 Index.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
First Trust. “First Trust NASDAQ-100 Equal Weighted Index Fund (QQEW).” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
First Trust. “First Trust Dow 30 Equal Weight ETF (EDOW).” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
State Street Global Advisors. “SPDR S&P Biotech ETF.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “U.S. Defense Spending Compared to Other Countries.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
State Street Global Advisors. “SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Significant Cyber Incidents.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
ETFMG. “ETFMG Prime Cyber Security ETF.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.
Invesco. “Strategy Insights: Potential Benefits of an Equal-Weighted Investment Approach.” Accessed Dec. 8, 2021.