Your Questions Answered: What are the pros and cons of investing in a mutual fund tracking S&P 500 index?

S&P 500 index, a key indicator of US equities, covers 80% of market capitalization. Diversification, performance tracking, and investment vehicle benefits make it essential for investors.

Kuvera
First Published18 Jun 2024, 09:13 AM IST
Investing in Indian mutual funds tracking S&P 500 offers simplicity and liquidity advantages, yet entails currency risk, geopolitical risks, and tax considerations that can impact returns.
Investing in Indian mutual funds tracking S&P 500 offers simplicity and liquidity advantages, yet entails currency risk, geopolitical risks, and tax considerations that can impact returns.(iStock)

Q. I am a small businessman running a small construction firm. My wife is an interior designer working as a freelancer. We have been investing in index mutual funds and large-cap funds for the past 5 years. We now intend to diversify our portfolio and invest in index funds tracking the US stock market. Can you please elaborate on the S&P 500 index and the pros and cons of investing in a mutual fund tracking S&P 500 index?

Gaurav Vasvani, Delhi, New Delhi

The S&P 500 index, a leading indicator of US equities, is widely regarded as the best single gauge of large-cap US stocks. There's a good reason for this: the index covers approximately 80% of the available market capitalization. For many, it is the benchmark against which all other investments are measured.

The origin and evolution

The S&P 500 was introduced by Standard & Poor's in 1957 as a stock market index to track the value of 500 large corporations listed on the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ. It is a market-capitalization-weighted index, meaning that companies with higher market values have a more significant impact on the index's price movements.

Why the S&P 500 matters

Investors and financial analysts pay close attention to the S&P 500 for several reasons:

Diversification: The index provides a broad snapshot of the market by including companies from all sectors.

Performance tracking: It serves as a proxy for the overall market's health and is used to benchmark the performance of individual stocks and other indexes.

Investment vehicle: Many mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) aim to track the performance of the S&P 500, making it accessible for individual investors to gain exposure to the market's returns.

Historical performance

The S&P 500 has seen its fair share of ups and downs, reflecting the dynamic nature of the US economy and global financial markets. For instance, the index experienced significant growth in the late 20th century, punctuated by the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s and the financial crisis of 2007-2008. More recently, the index has reached new heights, with record closings and a steady uptrend in the past few years.

The S&P 500 today

As of mid-2024, the S&P 500 continues to be a critical measure of economic and investment conditions. The index has shown resilience and growth, bouncing back from lows and reaching new highs. This performance is a testament to the robust nature of the US economy and the strength of its largest companies.

The future of the S&P 500

Predicting the future of the S&P 500 is as challenging as predicting the economy itself. However, historical trends show that despite short-term volatility, the index has provided solid long-term returns for investors. As the US and global economies evolve, the S&P 500 will continue to be a crucial barometer for investors and analysts alike.

Investing in Indian mutual funds that track the S&P 500 index can be an attractive proposition for investors looking to diversify their portfolio internationally, especially with exposure to the US stock market. However, like any investment, it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here's a detailed look at the pros and cons.

Pros

Diversification: By investing in funds that track the S&P 500, investors can gain exposure to 500 of the largest US based companies, spanning various industries. This helps in spreading out the risk as opposed to investing in a single stock or sector.

Professional management: These funds are managed by professionals who ensure that the fund's portfolio mirrors the index it tracks, thus relieving investors from the need to actively manage their investments.

Cost-effectiveness: Index funds typically have lower expense ratios compared to actively managed funds because they are passively managed. This means lower costs for investors over time.

Simplicity: For investors who wish to invest in the US market without the complexity of picking individual stocks, these mutual funds offer a straightforward approach.

Liquidity: Indian mutual funds tracking the S&P 500 are generally highly liquid, making it easier for investors to enter and exit positions.

Cons

Currency risk: Since these funds invest in US stocks, there is a currency risk due to fluctuations in the exchange rate between the Indian Rupee and the US Dollar.

Geopolitical risks: The performance of the S&P 500 is influenced by the economic and political events in the US, which may not always align with the Indian market's performance.

Limited potential for outperformance: Index funds aim to replicate the performance of the index they track. Therefore, they generally do not outperform the market.

Tax considerations: For Indian investors, gains from international mutual funds may be taxed differently compared to domestic funds, which could affect net returns.

Taxation

The taxation of mutual funds in India is primarily dependent on the type of fund and the duration of the investment. For mutual funds that invest in international stocks, such as those tracking the S&P 500, the tax treatment differs from domestic equity funds. Funds investing in the S&P 500 are typically classified as non-equity-oriented funds for tax purposes. This means they are taxed like debt funds, despite investing in equities. The rationale is that they do not meet the threshold of investing 65% in Indian equities. Therefore, for an Indian investor, gains from these funds will be taxed as per the rules applicable to debt funds.

Short-term and long-term capital gains tax

Investments in mutual funds are subject to capital gains tax, which is categorised into short-term capital gains (STCG) and long-term capital gains (LTCG). The classification between short-term and long-term is based on the holding period of the investment.

For mutual funds tracking the S&P 500 index, gains realised on investments held for less than 36 months are considered short-term and are added to the investor's income, taxed according to the applicable income tax slab rates.

Long-term capital gains, on the other hand, apply to investments held for more than 36 months. The LTCG on these funds was taxed at the rate of 20% after providing the benefit of inflation indexation until April 2023.

Taxation changes post-April 2023

It's important to note that if the investment in the mutual fund was made on or after April 1, 2023, the entire amount of gain is added to the investor's income and taxed according to the applicable slab rate. This change emphasises the need for investors to be aware of the timing of their investments and the corresponding tax implications.

Tax planning considerations

Investors should consider the tax implications as part of their overall investment strategy. Understanding the nuances of taxation can help in selecting the right mutual fund and deciding the investment horizon. It's also advisable to consult with a tax professional to understand the specific impact on one's financial situation.

Investing in mutual funds that target the S&P 500 can be an attractive proposition for diversification and exposure to international markets. However, investors must be cognizant of the tax implications that classify these funds alongside debt mutual funds. Understanding these nuances can help in making informed investment decisions and optimising post-tax returns.

The S&P 500 index is more than just a number—it's a reflection of the US economy's strength and the corporate giants that lead it. Whether you're an investor seeking to understand market trends or a casual observer of financial news, the S&P 500 offers valuable insights into the workings of the US stock market and, by extension, the global economy.The S&P 500 index remains a cornerstone of financial indices and will continue to be a key player in the investment world for years to come.

In conclusion, while investing in Indian mutual funds tracking the S&P 500 index can provide a convenient way to invest in the US stock market and diversify one's portfolio, investors must carefully consider their investment objectives, risk tolerance, and the impact of currency and geopolitical risks. It's also crucial to understand the tax implications and the fact that these funds are designed to match the market performance, not beat it. As with any investment decision, due diligence and a clear understanding of one's financial goals are paramount.

Disclaimer: Investing in mutual funds involves risks, including potential loss of principal. Please consult with a financial advisor before making any investment decisions.

Kuvera is a free direct mutual fund investing platform.

 

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First Published:18 Jun 2024, 09:13 AM IST
HomeMutual FundsYour Questions Answered: What are the pros and cons of investing in a mutual fund tracking S&P 500 index?

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