The Dow vs. Nasdaq vs. S&P 500: What’s the difference?

by Vested Team
March 18, 2024
4 min read
The Dow vs. Nasdaq vs. S&P 500: What’s the difference?

When you check the financial news, you often see updates about the Dow Jones, Nasdaq, and S&P 500. These aren’t random numbers; they’re key indicators that show how well the US stock market is doing.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average looks at 30 big companies in the US to see how they’re doing. It’s like a snapshot of big business. The Nasdaq is another kind of scoreboard that looks at tech companies, and it has a lot more companies than the Dow. The S&P 500 includes 500 large companies and gives a broader look at the stock market.

Understanding these indices is important for those interested in investing in US stocks. Each index gives a different view of the market and is useful for people who want to invest in US stocks.

What are the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500?

The Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 are all US market indexes that track the performance of selected stock groups. They measure the performance of specific stock market segments.

The Dow: Also known as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). This index includes 30 large publicly-owned companies.

The Dow is a price-weighted index, which means the companies with higher stock prices have a larger impact on the index’s performance. This is unlike market capitalization-weighted indices, where the company’s value plays a crucial role. The Dow takes the total price of its 30 stocks and divides it by an adjusted divisor. This change accounts for stock splits and dividends, preventing these actions from skewing the index.

The Nasdaq: This index includes over 3,000 stocks of both tech and non-tech companies. It’s known for having a large number of tech stocks compared to other indexes.

The Nasdaq Composite Index is market capitalization-weighted, meaning companies with a higher market value will have a more significant impact on the index’s price. This includes all the stocks listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, not technology stocks, although tech companies do make up a significant part of the index. To calculate it, multiply the total value of Nasdaq stocks by their last sale prices and then divide by the total number of stocks. The Nasdaq’s tech concentration makes it more volatile than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In the Nasdaq vs Dow Jones consideration, investors weigh the Nasdaq’s growth potential against the Dow’s stability.

The S&P 500: This index tracks 500 large US companies listed on stock exchanges. It offers a wider view of the stock market’s performance than the Dow.

The S&P 500 is also a market capitalization-weighted index, representing 500 of the largest companies listed on the US stock exchanges by market capitalization. The calculation takes into account the market cap of each company and the proportion of its shares available for public trading. S&P500 covers a wider range of sectors, many consider it the best representation of the US economy and use it as a benchmark for stock market performance.

What are the key differences among the S&P 500, Nasdaq Composite, and Dow?

The three major US stock market indexes – the S&P 500, Nasdaq Composite, and Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow) – serve as barometers for different parts of the market due to their distinct compositions and focuses. Here’s a summary of the differences between Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq:

Note: The data is till the end of February 2024.

Feature S&P 500 (INX) Nasdaq Composite (COMP) Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI)
Stocks 500 of the largest US-based companies Over 3,000 stocks on Nasdaq 30 large, well-known US-based companies
Business sectors Diverse, including all 11 sectors of the economy

Top five sectoral representation: (74.6%)

  1. IT: 29.5%
  2. Financials: 13.1%
  3. Healthcare: 12.8%
  4. Consumer discretionary: 10.3% 
  5. Communication services: 8.9%
Tech-heavy, with a focus on the technology sector

Top five sectoral representation: (90.41%)

  1. Technology: 56.81%
  2. Consumer discretionary: 18.10% 
  3. Healthcare: 7.49%
  4. Industrials: 4.39%
  5. Financials: 3.62%
Broad, but traditionally viewed as industrial

Top five sectoral representation: (87.2%)

  1. Financials: 21.5%
  2. IT: 19.7% 
  3. Healthcare: 19.1%
  4. Industrials: 14.0%
  5. Consumer discretionary: 12.9%
Composition Selected based on market cap, liquidity, and industry All companies listed on the Nasdaq exchange Price-weighted; stock price influences the index
Performance benchmark 

(1Y return %)

~27% ~41% ~19%
Performance benchmark

(5Y return %)

~81% ~120% ~50%
Known for Often used as a benchmark for the entire market Seen as a tech benchmark Viewed as a historical indicator of market trends

Which index is best for investing?

Choosing the ideal index for investments, whether it’s the Nasdaq, Dow Jones, or another, relies on personal investment goals and risk preferences.

For those in India looking to diversify their portfolio across a broad spectrum of US industries, investing in the S&P 500 might be the most suitable option. It’s a comprehensive index that suits those who prefer a passive investment strategy.

If stability and consistency are what you seek, the Dow Jones, with its assembly of 30 large, reputable blue-chip companies, is your go-to. It’s often the choice for those prioritizing safety and who want to invest in US stocks known for their solidity and reliable dividends.

Investors in India aiming for a more aggressive growth-oriented strategy might lean towards the Nasdaq, especially if they are comfortable with higher risk. Given the rapid growth of the tech sector, the Nasdaq’s tech-centric composition offers the potential for higher returns.

To invest in these indices from India, a variety of ETFs offer accessible investment paths:

For investing in the S&P 500 from India:

  • SPY: SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust 
  • IVV: iShares Core S&P 500 ETF
  • VOO: Vanguard S&P 500 ETF

For investing in the Nasdaq from India:

  • QQQ: Invesco QQQ Trust
  • QQQM: Invesco NASDAQ 100 ETF
  • ONEQ: Fidelity Nasdaq Composite Index ETF

For investing in the Dow Jones from India:

  • DIA: SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF
  • IYY: iShares Dow Jones US ETF
  • DDM: ProShares Ultra Dow30

These ETFs make it easier for investors from India to participate in the US stock market, aligning with their financial goals and risk tolerance.

Note: The above-mentioned ETFs have been chosen based on Assets Under Management (AUM).

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