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ETFs are highly popular for their low costs, high diversification and versatility. Here are some of the best ETFs you can find on the SGX.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are a popular investment product that retail investors can use to achieve their financial goals.
With the right investment strategy, ETFs can provide investors with capital gains, thus growing their wealth. Some ETFs also pay out dividends at regular intervals, prompting some investors to use them as a source of passive income.
Whether you’re after capital gains, passive income, or a combination of the two, ETFs are relatively safe investments and suitable for investors of all levels.
Let’s take a look at some of the top ETFs available on the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX), their features and objectives, and how they fit into different investment styles.
Why invest in ETFs?
But first, here’s a quick explanation of ETFs for the benefit of readers who have no idea what they are.
An ETF is an investment fund that attempts to follow the performance of a specific grouping of securities, represented by an index.
It does this by purchasing shares of the securities in the index, in the same proportion. For example, say DBS makes up 20% of Index A. An ETF that tracks Index A would allocate 20% of its funds into DBS shares.
When you invest in an ETF, you own a stake of the fund, not the underlying securities. As ETFs pool together money from many investors, investing in an ETF is a way to purchase the securities you want (and reap the potential benefits) at a lower capital cost.
ETFs also offer diversification, high liquidity and variety. You can select ETFs that invest in asset classes ranging from stocks, to bonds and commodities.
There are two ways to purchase units of ETFs: through your brokerage platform, or through regular savings plans.
A note on expense ratio
The expense ratio of an ETF is the fee charged by the fund manager for services rendered. It is charged annually.
As with all fees, the lower the expense ratio, the better, as high expense ratios can severely impact your gains, especially over a long timeline.
Compared to mutual funds and other investments, ETFs are generally passively managed, which results in relatively lower, more affordable fees.
Check out our SingSaver investment dictionary to get a hang of such terminologies.
8 Best ETFs in Singapore to invest in
Name of exchange-traded fund
SGX Stock code
What does it track?
Expense ratio (%)
STI (Singapore’s top 30 companies)
Low cost, long-term investment following a passive strategy
Nikko AM STI ETF
STI (Singapore’s top 30 companies)
Mid-to long-term capital gains via passive investing
FTSE/ASEAN 40 Index
Tracking the performance of top ASEAN companies
SDPR S&P500 ETF
Tracking the top 500 companies in the US
ABF SG BOND ETF
iBoxx ABF Singapore Bond Index
Balancing against overexposure to stocks
IS ASIA BND
J.P. Morgan Asia Credit Index
Passive income from bonds, rather than stocks
Morningstar Singapore REIT Yield Focus Index
Capital growth with regular dividends based on Singapore’s top real estate companies
PHLP AP DIV REIT
iEdge APAC ex Japan DividendLeaders REIT Index
Capital growth and regular income based on Asia’s real estate sector (excluding Japan)
Best for tracking local blue-chip stocks
SPDR STI ETF (SGX: ES3)
Because the STI is often used as a benchmark of the overall Singapore economy, investing in the SPDR STI ETF, then, is akin to investing in the future of Singapore.
Given its underlying assets, this ETF is recommended as a long-term investment for those pursuing a passive investment strategy. With an expense ratio of just 0.3%, it’s a reasonably low-cost investment with good potential. Just don’t expect too much excitement in the short term.
Nikko AM STI ETF (SGX: G3B)
Another fund that tracks the STI is the Nikko AM STI ETF. Established in 2009 (seven years behind the SPDR STI ETF), this ETF has a smaller fund size than SPDR STI ETF.
However, in terms of objective and underlying assets, the Nikko AM STI ETF is fundamentally the same as its predecessor. And with a matching expense ratio of 0.3% (annualised), there’s not much difference between the two.
Perhaps the only difference might be that the SPDR STI ETF tends to track the STI a tad more accurately, given its longer history.
Check out this comparison of SPDR STI ETF vs Nikko AM STI ETF for the full details.
Best for tracking top performers in other regions
PRINCIPAL ASEAN40 (SGX: QS0)
Also formerly known as the CIMB FTSE ASEAN 40, the PRINCIPAL ASEAN40 ETF tracks top performing companies across ASEAN nations, which arguably provides a higher degree of diversification than, say, a fund focussed on a single country.
The fund launched with five markets initially – Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia – with more to be added over time. Depending on how the region emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, this could be an exciting fund to watch.
SPDR S&P500 ETF (SGX: S27)
Perhaps one of the most widely known indices, the Standard and Poor’s 500 (S&P500) is an oft-cited index that tracks the 500 best performing companies on the US stock exchange. Together, these behemoths represent 80% of the entire American economy.
Which is ironic because given how some of the underlying companies are rich enough to buy entire nations, there’s nothing standard or poor about it!
In all seriousness, the SPDR S&P500 ETF is a popular way for investors with smaller budgets to invest in some of the most successful companies in all of human history.
Adding to the appeal is the fund’s exceedingly low expense ratio of just 0.03%.
Best for bonds IS ASIA BND
ABF SG BOND ETF (SGX: A35)
If you’re particularly risk averse but still want to try investing in ETFs, then the ABF SG BOND ETF might be a good fit.
The fund’s underlying asset is the iBoxx ABF Singapore Fund Index, which comprises Singapore dollar bonds issued by the Singapore Government or government-linked entities. It may also include Singapore dollar bonds issued or guaranteed by other Asian government, quasi-government or supranational organisations, such as the Korea Development Bank for instance.
Due to its strong association with the Singapore Government Bonds, the ABF SG BOND ETF has demonstrated resilience even through market volatility. It is highly suited as a diversification tool to balance against volatility in the stock markets.
IS ASIA BOND S$D (SGX: QL2)
Tracking the J.P. Morgan Asia Credit Index, the IS ASIA BOND ETF counts several governments, quasi-governments and corporates in the greater Asia region (excluding Japan) among its holdings.
With bonds (traditionally has an inverse relationship with stocks) as its underlying assets, this fund makes for a good choice for investors looking to balance overexposure to stocks.
Note that this fund is designed to provide steady passive income more than capital gains, so do plan accordingly.
Best for REITs
LION-PHILLIP S-REIT (SGX: CLR)
Singapore’s real estate sector has been going strong for a while now and more and more investors are starting to take notice.
While individual REITs give you access to a few properties each, REIT ETFs expand your range by covering more properties at once.
One example is the LION-PHILLIP S-REIT ETF, which basically covers every top real estate developer and operator on our mall-stuffed island. Some of the fund’s top holdings include Mapletree, CapitaLand, Ascendas and Starhill Global, so if you’ve ever gone shopping in Singapore, you’ve indirectly contributed to the fund’s success.
The LION-PHILLIP S-REIT ETF is built for both capital growth and regular income, making it a flexible investment to have in your portfolio.
PHLP AP DIV REIT (SGX: BYJ)
Tracking an index that covers over 70% of the REITs universe in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan), the PHLP AP DIV REIT ETF provides a chance to earn dividends from the leading real estate players in the region.
The fund’s underlying assets comprise holdings of 30 of the highest dividend-paying REITs in Asia Pacific, all the better to facilitate its objective of providing relatively high income alongside moderate capital growth.
While retail and hospitality have taken a hit from the pandemic, travel and leisure activities are expected to recover. When they do, this fund could very well take off.
How to kickstart your investment in ETFs
There are two primary methods to start putting money in ETFs: through a brokerage, or through a regular savings plan (RSP). RSPs are good for small, recurring investments (you might know it as Dollar-Cost-Averaging).
Those with a ready stash of cash to kickstart ETF investments in a lump-sum can consider opening an account with a licensed brokerage (you’ll need the accompanying CDP account), which is also good for understanding and managing your own risk. But that’s not to say that you can’t also make recurring investments with a brokerage.
Browse our list of online brokerages to pick one suited to your needs.
Read these next:
SPDR STI ETF vs Nikko AM STI ETF: A Comparison In A Jiffy
Best US Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) To Invest In (2021)
StashAway Review: Goal-Getting Investments Through ETFs
How To Build The Best Passive Income Portfolio For Your Future Self
DBS, SIA & Sheng Siong: Beginner’s Guide To Blue Chip Stocks In Singapore
By Alevin Chan
An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.
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