Index Funds or Stocks: Which is the Better Investment?

Index funds can provide a great long-term option with a diverse range of investments, but stocks can create higher growth. So which is better?

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Canadian investors might come across a lot of arguments out there for or against index funds and stocks. When it comes to investing, some might believe clicking once and getting an entire index is the way to go. Others might believe that stocks provide far more growth.

So let’s settle it once and for all. Which is the better investment: index funds or stocks?

Case for Index funds

Index funds can be considered a great investment for a number of reasons. These funds typically track a broad market index, such as the S&P 500. By investing in them you gain exposure to a diverse range of assets within that index, and that helps to spread out your risk.

These funds also tend to have lower expense ratios compared to an actively managed fund. They merely passively track an index rather than a team of analysts constantly changing the fund’s mix of investments. This means lower expenses, and lower fees for investors.

Funds also tend to have more consistent returns compared to individual stocks, which can see significant fluctuations in value. You therefore may enjoy an overall market trending upwards over the long term. This long-term focus can then benefit investors from the power of compounding returns, growing wealth significantly over time.

Case for stocks

That doesn’t mean that stocks can’t be a great investment as well. Stocks have historically provided higher returns compared to other asset classes over the long run. When you invest in stocks, you’re buying ownership of stakes in a company. This ownership then entitles you to a share of the company’s profits through returns or dividends.

Investing in a diverse range of stocks can then help spread out risk. Whereas an index fund is making the choice for you, Canadian investors can choose the stocks they invest in, creating the perfect diversified portfolio for them.

What’s more, stocks are quite liquid. This means you can buy and sell them easily on the stock market, providing you with cash whenever you need it. What’s more, this can be helpful during periods of volatility in the economy, providing a hedge against inflation and the ability to sell to make up income.

In some jurisdictions as well, even if you lose out on stocks you can apply capital losses, reducing overall tax liability in the process. And while it can be challenging, capital gains can also allow you to even beat the market!

So which is best?

I’m sure some people won’t like this answer, but investing in both is definitely the best route to take. If you’re set in your ways, that can mean you’re losing out on the potential returns which you could achieve by investing in both of these investment strategies.

A great option that would provide diversification is to invest in strong Canadian companies, while also investing in diversified, global index funds. For instance, consider the Vanguard FTSE Global All Cap Ex Canada Index ETF Unit (TSX:VXC), which provides investors with a mix of global equities, all with different market caps. This provides you with a diversified range of investments that over time have seen immense growth.

This index does not invest in Canada, so you can then couple that with Canadian investments. Think of the most boring areas of the market, and these can provide the safest investments! For instance, we always need utilities. So investing in a company such as Hydro One (TSX:H) can provide long-term growth. What’s more, it’s a younger stock compared to its utility peers, providing a longer runway for growth. And with a 3.15% dividend yield, you can gain extra passive income as well.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

Fool contributor Amy Legate-Wolfe has positions in the Vanguard FTSE Global All Cap Ex Canada Index ETF. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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