What Is a Broad Market Index Fund?

Definition & Examples of Broad Market Index Funds

Couple talking to a financial advisor about broad market index funds.
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A broad market index fund is a mutual fund that contains investments that track a large index. If you're investing on your own or working with an adviser who has suggested one of these funds, it helps to learn how these funds work and what they try to achieve.

Learn what broad market index funds are, how fund managers design them, and some pros and cons they offer.

What Are Broad Market Index Funds?

An index fund is a basket of investments, such as stocks and bonds, that allows a person to purchase a few investment types in one sale. The managers of the fund disburse the invested money per the fund's guidelines. They passively manage the fund and only make changes to the portfolio when there's a change in the larger index being tracked.

How Do Broad Market Index Funds Work?

Broad market index funds invest in a large segment of the investment market. These funds mostly track securities listed on one of the many indexes. Some common indexes that funds follow are the Standard & Poor's 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Nasdaq Composite.

There are close to 5,000 indexes in the U.S. Some of them, such as the Wilshire 5000 and Russell 3000, track thousands of publicly owned companies' stocks.

Market exposure is a term used to describe how much money is invested in a sector. If an investor has a broad market exposure, it means they invest in a good amount of sectors. Investing across a handful of sectors is one method people use to create a diverse fund and reduce risk.

The funds that offer the broadest market exposure to investors are often called total market index funds. A mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks the S&P 500 Index is a broadly diversified index fund. A fund that follows it is not broad enough to be looked at as a broad index fund.

Broad market funds invest in a larger index, such as the Wilshire 5000 or Russell 3000. The Wilshire 5000 and Russell 3000 include most of the U.S. stocks traded on stock exchanges. This wide group of holdings is why you'll see fund names with "total market" added. One such fund is the Vanguard Total Market Index Fund Admiral Shares.

Broad market index funds that invest in bonds often track Bloomberg Barclay's U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. It consists of about 8,000 bonds, hence the name "total bond index" for those index funds that track it.

Pros and Cons of Broad Market Index Funds

Pros
  • Low fees

  • Low turnover

  • Broader diversification

  • Passive management

  • Tax efficiency

Cons
  • Lack of flexibility

  • Lower gains than managed funds

  • Tracks indexes, but never beats them

Pros Explained

Broad market index funds have the same advantages that other index funds offer, with a few extra. Here are the primary benefits for investors.

Low Expenses

Like most other index funds, broad market index funds have expense ratios lower than 0.20%, which is $20 for every $10,000 invested. Low costs help boost returns, even more so in the long run, because fewer fees equal more money compounding over time.

Low Turnover

One of the main reasons for the low fees and costs of index funds is that the holdings are not sold and replaced at a high rate. When this happens, it is called "turnover." Many actively managed funds (non-index funds) can have turnover higher than 50%, but index funds usually turnover less than 5%.

Broader Diversification

Most index funds are diversified, meaning that they invest in a large number of securities. Broad market index funds offer greater diversity, meaning that they invest in a larger number of securities than less broad index funds.

Non-indexed, actively managed funds might perform better over a few years than passively managed indexed funds, but because of market ups and downs, they might perform worse in the long run.

Passive Management

Like other index funds, broad market index funds are passively managed, which means that the manager is not actively trying to beat the benchmark index. Instead, they are trying to track how good or bad the benchmark index performs. This action removes some risk for investors.

Tax Efficiency

Low turnover lowers taxes passed through to the investor. When mutual funds sell holdings at a price higher than the purchase price, capital gains are made. Capital gains trigger capital gains taxes. Less turnover prevents extra taxes caused by higher turnover.

Cons Explained

Since broad market funds are similar to index funds, they have many of the same disadvantages.

Lack of Flexibility

Fund managers follow the fund's guidelines, so they end up with less flexibility than an actively managed mutual fund might have. Buying into a broad market index fund locks your money into the investments the manager is required to track. Because of this, if prices start to fall, you'll have to ride it out and hope for the best.

Modest Gains

Due to it's diversified nature, a broad index fund will typically be neither the best performer nor the worst performer when compared to other, more narrow funds and sector focused funds.

They Can't Beat the Indexes

Funds that track indexes follow the index. Returns on passively managed index funds trail their underlying indexes most of the time.

Key Takeaways

  • Broad market index funds give investors a wide market exposure.
  • Leading pros are lower risk and costs to investors.
  • Broad market index funds are less flexible than mutual funds or other actively managed funds.