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A Dummies Guide To Investing In Ireland-Domiciled S&P 500 ETFs

3 min read

You’ve probably heard of the Straits Times Index (STI), our local Singapore Stock Index. Basically, it’s a benchmark index that tracks the Top 30 companies in Singapore.

And if you were to buy an index fund like an STI ETF, some benefits include:

  • Lower cost of entry (Investing in one lot of STI ETF is more affordable than investing separately in 30 different companies)
  • Need not actively monitor

You may want to read: SPDR Straits Times Index ETF (SGX: ES3) or Nikko AM STI ETF (SGX: G3B), which should I choose?

I think that investing in an STI ETF is a good starting point for beginner investors, and a regular shares savings plan makes it even easier to grow our capital, especially when we do not have time to actively monitor the market.

But if you want to:

  • Diversify your investments
  • Try your hand in the international market, and
  • Stick to index funds

You can consider investing in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500).


Why Invest In The S&P 500?

These companies have large market capitalisations and if you go down the list, you will probably recognise many of them. The S&P 500 Index gives you greater exposure and of course, pretty attractive returns.

What Is The S&P 500?

For the uninitiated, the S&P 500 or S&P 500 Stock Market Index is the U.S. stock market index. It comprises 505 stocks issued by 500 large-cap companies and is commonly used as a benchmark for companies in the U.S.

Some of these companies include Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Netflix… etc. These are brands that have a multinational presence.

In some ways, it’s like the U.S. counterpart to the STI.

Returns On S&P 500 vs. Straits Times Index

s&p 500 returns

S&P 500 Index

There are many reasons why you should invest in the S&P 500. Some include:

  • Exposure to the international market
  • Higher returns than the Straits Times Index
Index1Y Returns3Y Annualised
Returns
10Y Annualised
Returns
Straits Times Index3.34%4.62%3.29%
S&P 5007.21%11.54%12.30%

Figures stated here are correct as at the time of writing and does not include reinvestment of dividends.

What Choices Are There If I Wish To Invest In The S&P 500?

There are a few available in the market, but these are the more popular ones:

  1. SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)
  2. iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF (IVV)
  3. Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)

These ETFs seek to replicate the S&P 500’s returns, which are considerably better than the Straits Times Index. However, expenses that will reduce your returns include:

  • Expense Ratio
  • Foreign Currency Risk
  • Withholding Tax

I will be explaining more about these expenses below and how to reduce them.

Expense Ratio

Expense ratio (or management expense ratio) is the expense incurred to pay the managers for managing the fund.

Choosing an actively managed fund will naturally cost more per year and eat into your returns. So as an investor, you want to find an ETF with a low expense ratio.

Foreign Currency Risk

Since these ETFs are denominated in a currency outside SGD, investors need to be aware of the risk of currency fluctuations, during transactions and translations. You can’t really do much unless you want to do currency hedging… But that’s a whole other topic to be covered.

Withholding Tax

CountryWithholding Tax Rate (Dividends)
Singapore0%
Hong Kong0%
United Kingdom0% (tax treaty)
United States30%

Singaporeans investing in the American market are taxed 30% on our dividends as the U.S does not have a tax treaty with Singapore. For example, if the company declares a dividend that amounts to $100 to you, you will essentially only receive $70. We are exempt from capital gains (when the share price of our shares increase).

One way to go around this is to invest Ireland-Domiciled ETFs. These Irish-Domiciled ETFs benefit from the U.S./Ireland tax treaty rate of 15% on dividends.

And while this is not perfect, it certainly is more pocket-friendly than 30%.

What Ireland-Domiciled ETFs Are Available?

You can click on the arrows to sort them!

ETFTickerPriceExpense ratio1Y Returns3Y Average Returns (Annualised)
Vanguard S&P 500 UCITS ETFVUSAGBP 45.470.07%18.28%15.21%
SPDR S&P 500 UCITS ETFSPX5GBP 239.100.09%15.17%15.19%
iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF (Acc)CSPXGBP 236.440.07%15.20%15.24%
iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF (Dist)IUSAGBP 23.890.07%15.21%15.15%

Figures stated here are correct as at the time of writing.

Note: In the table above, “Acc” stands for accumulating. It means that dividends are actually reinvested back into the funds automatically. “Dist” stands for distributed, where dividends are distributed to investors.

Something to note about Ireland-Domiciled ETFs is that they tend to have higher expense ratios. However, even with higher expense ratios, they are still cheaper than the higher withholding taxes you’d have to pay for investing in the American market directly!

How Can I Purchase Ireland-Domiciled ETFs?

You can invest in them through your usual brokerages (DBS Vickers, POEMS, Saxo Capital, Standard Chartered Bank, and etc). As long as you have an account with one of these brokerages, you can search for the stock ticker, read the factsheet, and purchase the ETF.

Depending on your brokerage, the currency deducted will be based on your account and the fund itself (whether the fund is issued in SGD, USD or GBP).

You can read our Ultimate Guide To Investing In Singapore, where you can find articles like which brokerage to choose. Or if the S&P500 is not for you, you can also learn about the other investment options out there.

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