Exploring 3 Types of Indexing

Exploring 3 Types of Indexing

11 Min.

Index ETFs employ various weighting methods that cater to specific investment objectives. In a market-cap-weighted index ETF, each security is weighted based on its market capitalization. On the other hand, in an equal-weighted index ETF, each security is given equal weightage, irrespective of its market capitalization or other financial metrics. In a fundamental index ETF, the constituent securities are weighed based on basic metrics such as dividends, earnings, or revenues rather than market capitalization.


Within the realm of investment products such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs), indexing emerges as a multifaceted strategy. Index ETFs leverage three distinct weighting methods: market-cap-weighted, equal-weighted, and fundamental indexes. Each strategy has advantages and disadvantages, tailoring itself to diverse investment and risk management objectives. Market-cap-weighted index ETFs, characterized by stability, center their focus on a select few large companies. In contrast, the equal-weighted and fundamental index ETFs offer heightened diversification and potential for outperformance. However, these alternatives come at the cost of higher management fees and increased volatility.

Market-Cap-Weighted Indexing

Market-cap-weighted index ETFs, such as those tracking the S&P 500, assign weights to companies based on their market capitalization, which amplifies the influence of larger entities. This method, though mirroring overall market trends, is susceptible to disproportionate impacts from a handful of major corporations.

How Market-Cap-Weighted Indexing Works

A market-capitalization-weighted index allocates weights to its constituent assets in proportion to their market capitalization. Simply put, the larger a company's market cap, the more it shapes the index's performance. Market capitalization is derived by multiplying a company's stock price by its total outstanding shares.

Consider a hypothetical index comprising three companies: Company X ($600 billion market cap), Company Y ($400 billion), and Company Z ($200 billion). The total market cap of this index is $1.2 trillion. Company X holds a 50% share, Company Y 33.33%, and Company Z 16.67%. Consequently, fluctuations in Company X's stock price wield a more substantial impact on the index compared to Company Y and Company Z.

Investors typically favor market-cap-weighted index ETFs for their stability and cost-effectiveness. These ETFs offer a reliable depiction of market trends, driven by the influence of well-established, high-value companies. However, they may exhibit excessive concentration in specific sectors and lack the desired level of diversification.

Exploring Pros and Cons of Market-Cap-Weighted Index ETFs

Market-cap-weighted index ETFs offer distinct advantages and disadvantages:


  • Market Representation: This ETF type aptly mirrors market conditions, with larger companies exerting a more pronounced influence.
  • Lower Turnover: Infrequent rebalancing reduces transaction costs compared to other index ETFs.
  • Liquidity: Enhanced liquidity is facilitated by the typically more liquid nature of larger companies.


  • Concentration Risk: The influence of a few large companies can introduce volatility and risk.
  • Underrepresentation: Smaller companies play a minor role, potentially missing growth opportunities.
  • Potential for Market Distortion: Overvaluation in bull markets may be exacerbated as rising values increase the weight of overvalued companies in these ETFs.

Market-Cap-Weighted Index ETF Examples

  1. SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY): Represents the top 500 large-cap U.S. stocks.
  2. MSCI ACWI (ACWI): Covers developed and emerging markets globally.
  3. EURO STOXX 50 (SX5E): Comprises 50 stocks from 8 Eurozone countries.

Equal-Weighted Indexing

Equal-weighted indexing assigns identical weights to each constituent, irrespective of market capitalization or financial metrics. This methodology ensures a well-rounded exposure to all index companies, mitigating susceptibility to the influence of a few large-cap securities.

How Equal-Weighted Indexing Works

Equal-weighted indexes allocate uniform weights to every component, regardless of market capitalization or other characteristics. Consequently, each asset contributes equally to the overall performance of the index. For instance, in a hypothetical equal-weighted index with 100 companies, each would hold a 1% weight, regardless of their distinct market caps.

To sustain this equilibrium, equal-weighted indexes undergo periodic rebalancing, typically quarterly or semiannually. During this process, the portfolio is adjusted by selling appreciating assets and purchasing those that have declined, ensuring the components maintain equal weights.

Evaluating Pros and Cons of Equal-Weighted Index ETFs

Equal-weighted index ETFs present distinct advantages and disadvantages tailored to specific investment objectives.


  • Diversification: This index ETF type achieves balance across sectors and company sizes, avoiding overemphasizing a few large-cap stocks and fostering potential outperformance from smaller stocks.
  • Reduced concentration risk: Unlike market-cap-weighted counterparts, equal-weighted indexes minimize susceptibility to volatility stemming from a few large companies.
  • Potential for higher returns: Smaller companies, often overshadowed in market-cap-weighted ETFs, present higher growth potential in equal-weighted portfolios.


  • Higher costs: Routine rebalancing leads to increased transaction costs, and the more active management of these index ETFs may result in higher fees.
  • Volatility: The inherent market risk of smaller companies contributes to increased volatility in these index ETFs.
  • Sector imbalance: Dominance of smaller companies in a particular sector may unintentionally skew the balance of an equal-weighted index ETF.

Equal-Weighted Index ETF Examples

  1. Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight (RSP): An equal-weighted iteration of the S&P 500.
  2. Invesco Russell 1000 Equal Weight Index (EQAL): Encompasses the largest 1,000 U.S. companies with equal weighting.
  3. First Trust Nasdaq-100 Equal Weighted Index (QQEW): An equal-weighted adaptation of the Nasdaq 100 Index.

Fundamental Indexing

Fundamental indexing employs dividends, earnings, revenues, and key metrics to determine the weights of constituent stocks, diverging from the conventional reliance on market capitalization. This methodology accentuates a company's intrinsic value and financial stability.

How Fundamental Indexing Works

A fundamental index assigns weights to constituent securities based on fundamental metrics, such as earnings, dividends, revenue, or book value, rather than market capitalization. The objective is to concentrate on a company's intrinsic worth rather than its market valuation.

For instance, an index might consider a blend of dividends, earnings per share, and revenue to determine the weight of each stock. Consequently, if Company X outperforms Company Y in these fundamental metrics, it significantly influences the index. Periodic rebalancing, occurring quarterly, semiannually, or annually, aligns the index with its chosen metrics, reflecting the latest data. During rebalancing, stocks displaying improved fundamentals may receive increased weight, while those with declining fundamentals may see a reduction in their weight.

Assessing the Pros and Cons of Fundamental Index ETFs

Fundamental index ETFs present distinct advantages and challenges.


  • Focus on intrinsic value: By evaluating stocks based on fundamental metrics, these ETFs target the intrinsic value of companies, potentially offering more consistent returns.
  • Reduced volatility: These ETFs may exhibit lower volatility than market-cap-weighted counterparts, as they are less swayed by market sentiment.
  • Value orientation: Typically favoring value stocks, these ETFs provide a favorable risk-reward ratio.


  • Potential underperformance in bull markets: These ETFs might lag behind market-cap-weighted counterparts during strong markets, as no assurance exists that focusing on fundamentals guarantees superior returns.
  • Complexity: Incorporating various fundamental metrics makes these ETFs more intricate to comprehend and analyze.
  • Higher costs: Frequent rebalancing for fundamental data updates could result in increased transaction costs and management fees.

Fundamental Index ETFs Examples

  1. Pimco RAFI ESG U.S. ETF (RAFE): Developed by Pimco, this ETF employs a combination of social responsibility metrics and a smart beta strategy to mirror the RAFI ESG U.S. Index.
  2. Schwab Fundamental U.S. Large Company Index (FNDX): Utilizing adjusted sales, retained operating cash flow, and dividends plus buybacks for weighting.
  3. Invesco FTSE RAFI US 1000 (PRF): This ETF incorporates four fundamental factors: dividends, cash flow, sales, and book value.

Performance Evaluation of Index ETFs

When evaluating ETF performance, investors commonly consider metrics such as capital gains, dividends, expense ratios, and net asset value. A comprehensive assessment involves analyzing historical and current performance, portfolio composition, and risk-adjusted returns. Tracking error, indicating how closely the fund mirrors its benchmark index, is crucial, with lower tracking errors suggesting better alignment and potentially superior performance. Additionally, expense ratios significantly impact net returns and warrant close scrutiny before investment.

Examining the characteristics of SPY (Market Capitalized), RSP (Equal Weighted), and FNDX (Fundamental Index) as of the end of November 2023:

Characteristics of SPY, RSP, and FNDX as of the end of November 2023
Expense Ratio (%)0.090.20 0.25
P/E Ratio20.3615.98 14.62
P/B Ratio4.032.812.16
Distribution Yield (%)1.431.742.04
Top-10 Holdings of SPY, RSP, and FNDX as of the end of  November 2023
 1Microsoft (7.35%)Allstate Corp. (0.26%)Apple Inc. (4.65%)
 2Apple (7.29%)Expedia Group Inc. (0.25%)Microsoft Corp. (3.04%)
 3Amazon.com Inc. (3.51%)Gartner Inc. (0.25%)Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B (2.33%)
 4NVIDIA Corporation (3.11%)Assurant Inc. (0.25%)Meta Platforms Inc. Class A (2.17%)
 5Alphabet Inc. Class A (2.12%)Progressive Corp. (0.24%)JPMorgan Chase & Co. (1.91%)
 6Meta Platforms Inc. Class A (1.94%)Willis Towers Watson PLC (0.24%)Intel Corp. (1.84%)
 7Alphabet Inc. Class C (1.82%)QUALCOMM Inc. (0.24%)Exxon Mobil Corp. (1.75%)
 8Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B (1.72%)Fair Isaac Corp. (0.24%)Amazon.com Inc. (1.48%)
 9Tesla, Inc. (1.70%) Cardinal Health Inc. (0.24%)Verizon Communications Inc. (1.32%)
 10UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (1.32%)Seagate Technology Holdings PLC (0.24%)Alphabet Incorporated Class A (1.31%)
SPY, RSP, and FNDX Performance as of the end of October 2023
Index1 Year (%)3 Years Annualized (%)5 Years Annualized (%)10 Years Annualized (%)


Selecting between market-cap-weighted, equal-weighted, and fundamental index ETFs hinges on your strategy and risk appetite. Market-cap-weighted ETFs, exemplified by the S&P 500, mirror market sentiment but may be influenced by large companies. In contrast, equal-weighted ETFs deliver balanced exposure to all index companies, though with higher transaction fees due to frequent rebalancing. Fundamental index ETFs emphasize intrinsic value measures like dividends, revenue, and earnings, potentially providing more stable performance but may lag in strong bull markets.

Navigating these index nuances is vital for effective portfolio construction and investment outcomes. While market-cap-weighted ETFs are renowned for broad market representation, equal-weighted and fundamental counterparts offer alternative approaches centered on balanced exposure and intrinsic value, catering to distinct investment objectives.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Fundamental Indexing
Equal-Weighted Indexing
Market-Cap-Weighted Indexing