Vanguard announced last October that it would be ending its relationship with MSCI, one of the largest index providers in the world, and using new benchmarks for many of its most popular ETFs. That transition is now complete. Between January and April of this year, Vanguard Canada’s emerging markets equity, Canadian equity, and international equity ETFs all got new indexes created by FTSE. And earlier this month Vanguard changed the benchmark for two US-listed ETFs that happen to be core holdings in my Complete Couch Potato portfolio.
The Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTI) is now benchmarked to the CRSP US Total Market Index rather than the MSCI US Broad Market Index. The Canadian-listed version of this fund, the Vanguard US Total Market Index (VUS), simply holds VTI and adds currency hedging, so it is affected by the index change as well.
Don’t expect any meaningful effect on the performance of VTI. The CRSP index is slightly broader than its MSCI counterpart: the latter “targets for inclusion 99.5% of the capitalization of the US equity market,” while the former “represents approximately 100% of the investable US stock market.” That means the CRSP index will include more micro-cap stocks, though that change isn’t likely to move the performance needle. After all, the fund already held more than 3,400 stocks before the index change, and adding some additional micro-caps won’t significantly change your exposure.
Meanwhile, the Vanguard Total International Stock (VXUS)—which holds stocks in more than 40 countries other than the US—now tracks the FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index, having dropped the MSCI All Country World ex USA Investable Market Index. In this case, the new FTSE index is smaller than the old one. VXUS used to hold over 6,500 stocks, but the new benchmark includes about 5,300. Although the exclusion of 1,200 stocks might seem hugely significant, it’s not: as with the changes to VTI, the stocks moving in or out are likely to be very small companies with a trivial influence on the fund.
CRSP stands for Center for Research in Security Prices, which is associated with the University of Chicago. Although CRSP has been operating since 1960, the organization had never created indexes for investment funds until this partnership with Vanguard. FTSE is a popular index provider based in the UK that has been benchmarking ETFs for many years.
Although Vanguard has been tight-lipped about the specifics, the consensus is they moved away from MSCI benchmarks to lower their index licensing costs. The move should help Vanguard continue to lower the MERs of its funds—indeed, and that’s already happening. The cost of VTI fell to an absurdly low 0.05% in April, two months after VXUS dropped its fee to 0.16%.