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How the S&P 500 and Russell 2000 Indexes Differ

Stock market or equity indexes are composite measurements reflecting price movements of component stocks. Investors use indexes as a benchmark to gauge portfolio performance and as a barometer for overall market sentiment. When stock indexes trend upward, it reflects a bull market but when they trend lower, it signifies a bear market. In the United States, two of the most popular stock market indexes are the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) and the Russell 2000.

Key Takeaways

  • The S&P 500 index is an equity index comprised of 500 large-capitalization companies.
  • The Russell 2000 index is a stock market index comprised of 2,000 small-capitalization companies.
  • Both indexes are market-cap weighted.
  • The S&P 500 is used as a large-cap benchmark.
  • The Russell 2000 is commonly used as a small-cap proxy.

The S&P 500 Index

The S&P 500 is an equity index comprised of 500 large-capitalization companies listed on U.S. exchanges. A large-capitalization (large-cap) company typically has a market value greater than $10 billion. The S&P 500 is one of the most widely used benchmarks corresponding to the broader U.S. stock market.

The index was introduced in 1923 and took on its present form in March 1957. The U.S. Index Committee from S&P Dow Jones Indices selects the index’s constituent companies on an as-needed basis. The aim is to pick companies in industries and market segments that mirror the U.S. economy.

Due to its composition of 500 companies, the S&P 500 is a much broader, and perhaps accurate, measure than the popular Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), which contains just 30 stocks.

S&P 500 Weighting

Shares are weighted by market capitalization, resulting in a cap-weighted or value-weighted index in which companies with larger market values receive relatively greater weight. The S&P 500 is float-weighted, which calculates a company’s market capitalization using only the number of shares available for trading by the public. This helps to reflect a firm’s investable valuation accurately.

The makeup of the index is adjusted from time to time to account for mergers and acquisitions (M&A), bankruptcies, special dividends, share repurchases, and new share issuances. Companies may be added or removed as the landscape of the U.S. economy changes, or as companies fail to meet listing criteria, such as market valuation and financial viability.

Investing in the S&P 500

The S&P 500 is an investable index, making it useful as a benchmark for the entire U.S. stock market. Investors and traders can replicate the S&P 500 by buying the component stocks using the same weights as the index.

Accumulating positions in 500 different shares can be costly and time-consuming, so alternatives exist to make investing in the index easier, including S&P 500 futures, indexed mutual funds, and indexed exchange-traded funds (ETFs), like the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY).

There’s also an active and liquid options market on S&P 500 futures and the SPY ETF, allowing well-diversified large-cap portfolios to be hedged.

S&P 500 Top Components

As of Nov. 30, 2021, the top 10 holdings in the S&P 500 by market capitalization include:

  1. Apple (AAPL)
  2. Microsoft (MSFT)
  3. Amazon (AMZN)
  4. Tesla ((TSLA)
  5. Alphabet Class A (GOOGL)
  7. Alphabet Class C (GOOG)
  8. Meta Platforms, Inc. (FB), formerly Facebook
  9. Berkshire Hathaway Class B (BRK.B)
  10. JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM)

The S&P is a diverse index in that it holds both growth and value stocks.

The Russell 2000 Index

The Russell 2000 index, created in 1984 by FTSE Russell, is a stock market index comprised of 2,000 small-capitalization companies. It’s made up of the bottom two-thirds of the Russell 3000 index, a larger index of 3,000 publicly traded companies that represent nearly 97% of the investable U.S. stock market.

While the S&P 500 is a suitable benchmark for large-cap portfolios, the Russell 2000 is the most common benchmark for small-caps. Investors typically monitor this index to gauge the performance of smaller, domestically-focused businesses. The smallest 1,000 companies in the Russell 2000 make up the Russell 1000 Microcap Index. The Russell 2000 index is constructed to be representative of the smallest 2,000 listed companies in the U.S.

Russell 2000 Weighting

The Russell 2000 is another market-capitalization-weighted index and is designed as a comprehensive barometer of small caps that is unbiased. Unlike the S&P 500, the components of the Russell 2000 index are selected by a formula—the bottom 2,000 of the Russell 3000—and not by a committee.

Investing in the Russell 2000

Like the S&P 500, the Russell 2000 index is investable by replicating the index using component shares or through index futures, mutual funds, and ETFs like the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM). There’s also an active listed options market for IWM and Russell 2000 futures.

Russell 2000 Top Components

As of Oct. 31, 2021, the top 10 holdings in the Russell 2000 by market capitalization include:

  1. AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC)
  2. Asana (ASAN)
  3. Crocs (CROX)
  4. Ovintiv (OVV)
  5. Tetra Tech (TTEK)
  6. Lattice Semiconductor (LSCC)
  7. Intella Therapeutics (NTLA)
  8. Avis Budget Group (CAR)
  9. Silicon Lab (SLAB)
  10. Macy’s (M)

The Russell 2000 is maintained by FTSE Russell, which is a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group.

The Bottom Line

The S&P 500 and Russell 2000 are both investable, market-capitalization-weighted U.S. indexes commonly used as benchmarks by portfolio managers and investors. There are also several differences between the two indexes.

The S&P 500 is comprised solely of large-capitalization companies and serves as the most common large-cap benchmark. A committee selects constituent stocks, which contain just one-fourth of the number of companies listed in the Russell 2000. Alternatively, the Russell 2000 is an appropriate benchmark for small-cap portfolios, with a formula determining member stocks rather than a committee.