The Most Popular ETFs In The UK For The Major Asset Classes

Popular ETFs in the UK

Here is a quick review of the most popular ETFs in the UK for major asset classes 

As passive investing has become more popular in recent years the number of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) available to investors has increased significantly. As a result, UK investors now have a lot of choice when it comes to selecting ETFs for their portfolios, which can make the process of constructing a portfolio more challenging.  

To help investors with their ETF selection, we have put together a list of the most popular ETFs among UK investors, based on fund size, for most of the major asset classes. All of the ETFs listed below are available on mainstream investment platforms such as Hargreaves Lansdown and AJ Bell. Or you can trade ETFs via CFDs, or spread betting through brokers like IG, CMC, or Saxo Capital Markets.

Here is the list of the most popular ETFs per asset class.

All performance figures to 31 July 2019. 

Most Popular Global Equity ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds)

The most popular ETF among UK investors for global equities is the iShares Core MSCI World UCITS ETF (tickers: SWDA, IWDA). This ETF is designed to track the MSCI World index, which is an international equity index that captures the performance of around 1,650 stocks from 23 developed countries. 

While this ETF has exposure to 23 countries, investors should be aware that the underlying index is heavily biased toward US equities. Indeed, at 31 July, 63% of the fund was allocated to the US, while the next largest country allocations were Japan at 8% and the UK at 6%. The top holdings at the end of July were Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet – which are all listed in the US.  

While the performance of this ETF has been solid over the last five years, it’s worth noting that many of the actively-managed funds that we profiled in our list of The top 10 global growth funds that have consistently beaten the benchmark have outperformed this ETF by a wide margin. This suggests that there’s still a place for actively-managed funds within a diversified portfolio. 

Performance (% USD)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares Core MSCI World UCITS ETF 3.7% 35.0% 41.4%

Total expense ratio: 0.20%


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Most Popular UK Equity ETFs

The most dominant ETF for UK equities is the iShares Core FTSE 100 UCITS ETF (ticker: ISF), which is designed to track the performance of the FTSE 100. This index provides exposure to the largest 100 companies listed in the UK. 

While this ETF is designed to provide investors with exposure to UK equities, investors should be aware that many companies within the FTSE 100 are multinational companies that have substantial international operations. This means that performance is sensitive to both international issues and currency movements. The top holdings in this ETF at the end of July were HSBC Holdings, Royal Dutch Shell A, BP, Royal Dutch Shell B, and AstraZeneca. 

Performance (% GBP)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares Core FTSE 100 UCITS ETF 2.2% 27.4% 36.8%

Total expense ratio: 0.07%

Most Popular US Equity ETFs

For US equities, the most popular ETF in the UK is the iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF (tickers: CSPX, CSP1). This ETF is designed to replicate the performance of the S&P 500 index, which tracks the largest 500 companies listed in the US. 

The iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF has been a great performer over the last five years due to its significant exposure to the US technology sector (22%), which has generated strong investment returns. However, past performance is no guarantee of future performance and if the technology sector was to underperform, this ETF could be impacted negatively. The top holdings at the end of July were Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Berkshire Hathaway. 

Performance (% USD)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares Core S&P 500 UCITS ETF 7.6% 44.1% 68.0%

Total expense ratio: 0.07%

Most Popular Emerging Markets Equity ETFs

The most popular ETF in the UK for exposure to the world’s emerging markets is the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets UCITS ETF (ticker: IEEM). This ETF is designed to track the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which captures large-cap and mid-cap representation across 26 emerging markets countries. While exposure to emerging markets can help with portfolio diversification, investors should be aware that emerging markets equities can be highly volatile and are generally more sensitive to economic and political uncertainty than developed markets equities. 

In terms of country exposure, at 31 July, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets UCITS ETF had the largest exposure to China (32%), South Korea (11%), and Taiwan (11%). The top holdings were Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group, Taiwan Semiconductor, Samsung Electronics, and Naspers.  

Performance (% USD)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets UCITS ETF -2.9% 24.9% 6.3%

Total expense ratio: 0.75%

Most Popular Fixed-Income ETFs

For exposure to UK fixed income, the most popular ETF among UK investors is the iShares Core UK Gilts UCITS ETF (ticker: IGLT). This ETF provides exposure to a diversified portfolio of UK government bonds. 

Performance (% GBP)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares Core UK Gilts UCITS ETF 7.3% 5.6% 31.4%

Total expense ratio: 0.07%

For those looking for global fixed income exposure, the iShares Core Global Aggregate Bond UCITS ETF (ticker: AGBP) is one of the most popular global fixed income ETFs among UK investors. This ETF provides diversified exposure to the global fixed income market through investment in government, government-related, corporate, and securitised bonds. 

Performance (% USD)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares Core Global Aggregate Bond UCITS ETF 6.6% N/A N/A

Total expense ratio: 0.20%

Most Popular Real Estate ETFs

The most popular ETF in the UK for exposure to real estate is the iShares Developed Markets Property Yield UCITS ETF (tickers: IWDP, IDWP). This ETF is designed to replicate the performance of the FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Developed Dividend+ Index, which tracks listed real estate companies and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) from developed countries across the world (excluding Greece), that have a one-year forecast dividend yield of 2% or greater.

The performance of this ETF over the last five years has been very good. However, investors should be aware that this ETF does have a strong bias towards US property. 

Performance (% USD)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
iShares Developed Markets Property Yield UCITS ETF 7.30% 17.60% 63.10%

Total expense ratio: 0.59%

Most Popular Gold ETFs

For gold exposure, the most popular ETF in the UK is the ETFS Physical Gold ETF (ticker: PHAU). This ETF is designed to offer investors a simple and cost-effective way to gain exposure to gold by providing a return equivalent to the movements in the gold spot price minus management fees. This ETF is backed by physical gold held by the custodian HSBC Bank. This ETF has performed well over the last year as economic uncertainty has increased. 

Performance (% USD)

1yr 3yrs 5yrs
ETFS Physical Gold ETF 17.5% 6.4% 10.6%

Total expense ratio: 0.39%

Of course, the ETFs that we have listed above are simply the largest ETFs by fund size. There are many other ETFs that UK investors may want to consider for their portfolios. Below is a list of some more specialised ETFs that sophisticated investors might be interested in. 

List of Popular ETFs
Boost Silver 3x Leverage Daily ETP – 3LSI
Boost WTI Oil 3x Leverage Daily ETP (USD)
Boost WTI Oil 3x Short Daily ETP (USD)
Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bull 3x
Direxion Daily Junior Gold Miners Index Bull 3x Shares
Direxion Daily S&P Biotech Bear 3x Sh AE
Direxion Daily Semiconductor Bull 3X ETF
ETFS 3x Daily Long Natural Gas
ETFS Coffee
ETFS Lean Hogs
Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF
Global X Silver Miners ETF
Global X Uranium ETF
Invesco QQQ Trust Series 1 (All Sessions)
iShares Emerging Markets Local Government Bond UCITS ETF – SEML
L&G FTSE 100 Super Short Strategy (Daily 2x) UCITS ETF
Motley Fool 100 Index ETF
ProShares Ultra QQQ
ProShares Ultra S&P500
ProShares Ultra Silver
ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF
ProShares UltraPro Dow30
ProShares UltraPro QQQ
ProShares UltraPro Short QQQ
ProShares VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (All Sessions)
PureFunds ISE Junior Silver (Small Cap Miners Explorers) ETF
United States Oil Fund LP (All Sessions)
VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF
VanEck Vectors(TM) Gold Miners UCITS ETF
VanEck Vectors(TM) Junior Gold Miners UCITS ETF (LSE)

A word of caution: when choosing an ETF for your portfolio, it’s important to be aware that many ETFs offer multiple trading currencies. For example, the iShares Core MSCI World UCITS ETF is listed on the London Stock Exchange with both USD and GBP trading currencies. The trading currency you select can impact your overall investment returns due to foreign currency trading fees and currency movements. 

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