Investing in Funds

Halal ETFs Compared: The Ultimate Guide (January 2023)

This is the definitive, always up-to-date post on Halal ETFs, covering all ETFs that list only halal stocks. You'll learn everything you need to know about Shariah compliant ETFs, including which ones to pick and which to avoid.

Let's get to it!

Key Takeaways

Why ETFs exist

Did you know that $10,000 invested in Tesla in 2013 would have netted you a cool $1,500,000 in 2020!

We've all heard quips like that β€” and then think "I'll have two of that, please! Here's $20,000!". Just one problem there, however. That ship is long gone 🚒! For Tesla (at a $1 trillion market cap today) to give you that kind of return, it'd have to become bigger than the entire world economy!

And for evey Tesla, there are hundreds of AEX, CFR and more … what are these, you ask? Exactly my point, friend. Companies from 2013, all now dead.

You can't just pick a random company, and hope for the best.

You need to pick the right company. Picking the right company is hard work, and means toiling over financial statements, studying filings and doing all sorts of boring things.. Even then, nothing guarantees you'd catch anything remotely like a Tesla.

So what is one to do if they don't want to spend their days hunched over financial statements?

Diversify.

Like your grandma used to say, don't put all your eggs in one basket. That way, you'll do well when the group of companies does well - but no single company can bring you down.

And how do you invest in a bunch of stocks? That brings us nicely to our next topic: ETFs.

What's an ETF anyway?

An ETF is a type of investment that lets you own a little piece of many different things at once. For example, an ETF might hold a bunch of different stocks, or bonds, or even gold. This way, if one of the things in the ETF does poorly, the others might do well and help balance it out. You can buy and sell ETFs just like you would any other stock -- but "inside" each ETF is a collection of lots of other assets.

In that way, buying a single share of an ETF is like buying tiny pieces of each of the parts of the ETF. These pieces aren't all necessarily the same size, and they also change with time.

ETFs change regularly (usually quarterly), but some (famously, the ARK family of ETFs) update as frequently as daily.

Looking to learn more about funds?

We discuss why you'd want to invest in a fund in a previous post; start there if you need more convincing!

Comparing Halal ETFs

Up until just a few years ago, there were only 3 halal ETFs β€” any they all targeted different regions, so there wasn't much to compare. Now though, there are many more (although, halal ETFs remain much more expensive than non-halal ones).

So before diving into the individual ETFs, it's worth considering what criteria we'll use to decide between the different ETFs:

  1. Performance (obviously). However, we need a way to measure the average performance of any given ETF in any given year. For that, we use the trusty CAGR metric (cumulative aggregate growth rate). Just think of this as the yearly average return for any given fund.

  2. Top 10 holdings concentration tells us how diversified the ETF is. After all, if the the whole point of an ETF is diversification - we'd expect the Top 10 of a medium-sized ETF (~100 stocks) to represent a small part of the ETFs performance. Otherwise, why don't we just buy those stocks directly? (and skip the fees)

  3. Benchmark comparison: to see how the fund compares to the overall market. Most people use the S&P 500 - the list of 500 of the biggest US companies - as the default benchmark. We'll visually compare each of the funds to the S&P 500 to see not just the overall performance, but also the highs/lows (the "volatility). Unlike a roller coaster, here - the lower the volatility, the better. You may like the highs, but what goes up must come down, and those downs really test a man's mettle. Many folks end up selling out at the bottom. If we can avoid volatility, or reduce it - we should take it.

So there we have it! With our 3 criteria out of the way, let's take a look at the different halal ETFs out there and how they rank against each our criteria.

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Limited Options

A problem you'll immediately bump into when finding an ETF that's Shariah compliant to invest in is that there just aren't that many of 'em. These things are about as rare as a unicorn.

It gets even worse when you live outside the US, and don't have access to the full menu of ETFs.

We'll get to country-specific limitations towards the end so stick around. We'll also cover a pretty darn smart solution to this issue, you don't want to miss that bit!

With that out of the way, lets dive into each of the funds..

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Overview of Halal ETFs

Here's a table showing a complete list of halal ETFs across different geographies, and across different segments of the market:

ETFTitleGeographyAssetEx
ISDUiShares MSCI USA Islamic UCITS ETFUS πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈEquitiesπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§
SPUSSP Funds S&P 500 Sharia Industry Exclusions ETFUS πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈEquitiesπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
HLALWahed FTSE USA Shariah ETFUS πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈEquitiesπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
SPRESP Funds S&P Global REIT Sharia ETFUS πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈEquitiesπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
ISDWiShares MSCI World Islamic UCITS ETFWorld 🌍EquitiesπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§
WSHRWealthsimple Shariah World Equity Index ETFWorld 🌍EquitiesπŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦
UMMAWahed Dow Jones Islamic World ETFWorld 🌍EquitiesπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
SPSKThe SP Funds Dow Jones Global Sukuk ETFWorld 🌍SukukπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ
ISDEiShares MSCI EM Islamic UCITS ETFEmerging 🌍EquitiesπŸ‡¬πŸ‡§

Deep Dive

Now it's time to take a look at the different Halal ETFs available out there, and how they stack up based on the criteria we've set. We'll dive deep into every single one of these ETFs to understand what makes them tick, and wrap up with a summary capturing the pros & cons of each one.

ISDU / ISUS πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

πŸ“– Prospectus page

This is the 'OG' Halal ETF β€” launched all the way back in 2007. There are two flavors of this ETF, the ISDU flavor (in USD) and the ISUS (in GBP). Otherwise, they're identical.

ISDU is also part of iShares's collection of halal indices that includes ISDW (targeting the developed World) and ISDE (targeting Emerging markets). That's ISDU for US, ISDW for World and ISDE for Emerging. Smart! Unfortunately, it's all downhill from here.

Feast your eyes on this chart showing how ISDU has fared against the S&P500 (which it's supposed to be based on) over the past 15 years:

A 109.95% return may sound decent, but remember that this is over 15 years! The yearly return (or CAGR) is just 5.03% β€” compared to the S&P500's 6.9% over the exact same time period.

Also, the Top 10 holdings in this ETF represent a whopping 53.44% (!) of the fund β€” which is considered stupendously concentrated[^5]:

SymbolNameWeight
MSFTMicrosoft Corp19.35%
JNJJohnson & Johnson5.65%
XOMExxon Mobil Corp5.30%
PGProcter & Gamble Co4.33%
CVXChevron Corp3.81%
TSLATesla Inc3.60%
MRKMerck & Co Inc3.38%
PFEPfizer Inc3.35%
CSCOCisco Systems Inc2.35%
ABTAbbott Laboratories2.32%
Top 10 (Show All)53.44%
Last updated: 4 Jan, 2023

Overall, the performance of this ETF is underwhelming. The fact that it's domiciled in Ireland does make things better for foreign investors from a tax perspective, but that's little consolation for the dismal performance.

Note: We're considering the growth in NAV (Net Asset Value) in the performance figures above, so this includes dividends.

SPUS πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

πŸ“– Prospectus page

The new kid on the block, SPUS launched Dec 12, 2019 β€” just as the ground underneath the markets was starting to collapse due to COVID19.

Lets compare its performance to that of the S&P500 since inception:

That's more like it! SPUS actually outperformed the market during this period β€” resulting in a CAGR of 8.68% returns vs. 6.58% for the S&P500 over the same period.

The Top 10 holdings represent 39.43%, still ridiculously concentrated β€” (albeit, better than ISDU):

SymbolNameWeight
AAPLApple Inc10.90%
MSFTMicrosoft Corp9.66%
GOOGLAlphabet Inc Class A3.00%
JNJJohnson & Johnson2.73%
GOOGAlphabet Inc Class C2.68%
XOMExxon Mobil Corp2.62%
PGProcter & Gamble Co2.08%
NVDANVIDIA Corp2.07%
HDThe Home Depot Inc1.88%
CVXChevron Corp1.82%
Top 10 (Show All)39.43%
Last updated: 5 Jan, 2023

To see the complete list of holdings, just press the "Show All" link above.

We'll discuss the reasons behind the difference in performance between ISDU, SPUS and the other funds. For now, let's continue with the remaining funds.

HLAL πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

πŸ“– Prospectus page

This ETF was launched mid-2019, by the team at Wahed (an investing app that caters to Muslims). It's also focused on the US market, so let's benchmark it's performance with the S&P500:

Once again, we have an outperformer β€” rising 10.44% ever year since inception vs the 7.71% of the S&P500 over this period.

Upon reviewing the Top 10 holdings for HLAL, we notice that there's still alot of concentration there at 44.47% -- worse than SPUS (but not ISDU):

SymbolNameWeight
AAPLApple Inc13.22%
MSFTMicrosoft Corp11.76%
JNJJohnson & Johnson3.29%
XOMExxon Mobil Corp3.15%
PGProcter & Gamble Co2.48%
CVXChevron Corp2.39%
LLYEli Lilly and Co2.10%
TSLATesla Inc2.06%
PFEPfizer Inc2.01%
MRKMerck & Co Inc2.01%
Top 10 (Show All)44.47%
Last updated: 5 Jan, 2023

SPRE πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

This ETF was started by Shariah Portfolio, the same company behind SPUS. Launched on December 29, 2020 this fund aims to provide halal exposure to the Real Estate sector. Here's how it's performed since inception:

It's underperformed the S&P500 by quite a bit since it started β€” with a -1.21% yearly return to the market's 2.12% over this period.

It'll shock you to know that the Top 10 holdings in this bad boy represent a whopping 74.84% (!). With such a high concentration, you'd need a legitimate reason to invest in the fund (and pay up the 0.59% expense ratio) instead of just buying the holdings yourself:

SymbolNameWeight
CCICrown Castle Inc12.56%
PLDPrologis Inc12.12%
EQIXEquinix Inc11.94%
PSAPublic Storage11.32%
WYWeyerhaeuser Co4.80%
MAAMid-America Apartment Communities Inc4.79%
AVBAvalonBay Communities Inc4.71%
EQREquity Residential4.66%
ESSEssex Property Trust Inc4.25%
CPTCamden Property Trust3.70%
Top 10 (Show All)74.84%
Last updated: 5 Jan, 2023

ISDW / ISWD 🌍

πŸ“– Prospectus page

Now, it's time to look at ISDW. This is the 3rd of the ISD's and it targets the 'Developed world' β€” kind of like an ISDU, but across the globe.

Let's take a look at performance vs S&P500:

Ouch! Just a 50.58% return over the full 15 years of it's existance, vs 783.25% to the S&P500 β€” which makes you wonder why on Earth anyone would consider investing in the ISD series of funds. You get high expense ratios, poor performance and low liquidity: 3 reasons NOT to!

The CAGR is only worse, as you can imagine: 2.75% vs SPY's 6.94%.

Now, let's take a look at the Top 10:

SymbolNameWeight
MSFTMicrosoft Corp9.18%
JNJJohnson & Johnson3.70%
XOMExxon Mobil Corp3.48%
PGProcter & Gamble Co2.84%
CVXChevron Corp2.50%
TSLATesla Inc2.36%
MRKMerck & Co Inc2.22%
PFEPfizer Inc2.20%
CSCOCisco Systems Inc1.58%
SHEL.LShell PLC1.56%
Top 10 (Show All)31.60%
Last updated: 4 Jan, 2023

Not much to say β€” at 31.6%, it isn't particularly horrible, especially in comparison to some of the others we've seen so far. Just notice how quite a few of the names are repeated in some of the other ETFs we've seen so far.

We'll analyze overlap in more detail in another post.

WSHR 🌍

πŸ“– Prospectus page

This ETF was launched mid-2021, by WealthSimple. It's listed on the Canadian NEO exchange, and meant to provide Canadians with exposure to Shariah compliant companies in "Developed" markets.

Let's see how it stacks up against the S&P500:

Once again, we're looking at an outperformer folks. The yearly return for WSHR is 1.41% vs -4.07% for SPY over the same time period.

Upon reviewing the Top 10 holdings for WSHR, we notice that it's the least concentrated of all the ETFs we've seen so far. At just 9.07%, it even beats the S&P500:

SymbolNameWeight
NESN.SWNestle SA1.09%
SCMN.SWSwisscom AG1.00%
NOVN.SWNovartis AG0.97%
2269.TMeiji Holdings Co Ltd0.92%
Z74.SISingapore Telecommunications Ltd0.89%
JNJJohnson & Johnson0.88%
TRI.TOThomson Reuters Corp0.85%
ROG.SWRoche Holding AG0.83%
SAN.PASanofi SA0.82%
BEI.DEBeiersdorf AG0.82%
Top 10 (Show All)9.07%
Last updated: 5 Jan, 2023

Not only does it outperform the S&P500 (albeit, by a modest amount), it's also more diversified. Between this and ISDW, it's pretty clear which one you'd be better off investing in.

UMMA 🌍

This ETF was started by Wahed, the same company behind HLAL. Launched on January 6, 2022 this fund aims to provide halal exposure to global stocks β€” similar to ISDW.

Here's how it's performed since inception:

(Note: We've added ISDW on the chart to compare performance since they share similar goals)

Wow. Somehow, it's managed to perform substantially worse than both the SPY and ISDW, and by quite a margin. The yearly return for UMMA is -19.38% vs -16.86% for SPY over the same time period.

SymbolNameWeight
TSMTaiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd ADR6.35%
JDJD.com Inc ADR4.58%
700.HKTencent Holdings Ltd3.61%
005930.KSSamsung Electronics Co Ltd3.59%
ASML.ASASML Holding NV3.48%
NOVN.SWNovartis AG3.26%
NOVO B.CONovo Nordisk A/S Class B3.24%
ROG.SWRoche Holding AG3.22%
NESN.SWNestle SA2.90%
SHOPShopify Inc Registered Shs -A- Subord Vtg2.55%
Top 10 (Show All)36.78%
Last updated: 5 Jan, 2023

The Top 10 is also above the average concentration for the SPY, coming in at 36.78%.

SPSK 🌍

Another Sharia Portfolio fund, this was started in December 27, 2019 with the goal to provide investors access to the global Sukuk market. Notably, this is the only US-listed fund to provide access to Sukuk. (We'll talk more about Sukuk in a future post)

Here's how it's performed since inception:

Sukuk are generally considered to be less risky than stocks, but they also tend to have lower potential returns. As expected, you can see that SPSK is much less volatile than SPY -- the only problem with that of course is that it's dropping in a less volatile manner.

Somehow, it's managed to lose money since inception -- despite the "predictable" returns Sukuk promise. The yearly return for SPSK is -4.03% vs 6.48% for SPY over the same time period.

Here's what the fund holds:

SymbolNameWeight
DEPOSITS WITH BROKER FOR SHORT POSITIONS4.85%
US DOLLARS1.55%
FABUH 3.875 01.22.24FAB Sukuk Company Limited 3.88%1.03%
FABUH 2.5 01.21.25FAB Sukuk Company Limited 2.5%0.50%
KSA 3.628 04.20.27 REGSKSA Sukuk Limited 3.63%3.80%
KSA 5.268 10.25.28 REGSKSA Sukuk Limited 5.27%2.45%
ARAMCO 2.694 06.17.31 REGSSA Global Sukuk Ltd. 2.69%2.24%
ISDB 1.262 03.31.26IsDB Trust Services No. 2 SARL 1.26%2.13%
KSA 2.969 10.29.29 REGSKSA Sukuk Limited 2.97%1.90%
KSA 4.303 01.19.29 REGSKSA Sukuk Limited 4.3%1.81%
Top 10 (Show All)22.27%
Last updated: 5 Jan, 2023

Very diversified at just 24.41% in the Top 10, but that's little solace for investors given the dismal overall performance.

ISDE 🏭

πŸ“– Prospectus page

This fund was born along with it's brothers, ISDU and ISDW, on 7 Dec, 2007. It focuses on 'Emerging Markets', the politically correct term for countries that are 'less developed'. This principally includes all of the countries that aren't US/Europe β€” that's mainly China, India, Brazil and the Middle East.

The largest companies in these regions tend to be commodity-based, so they rely on extracting and processing natural resources. This means they're more exposed to fluctuations in the price of whatever the underlying commodities are (e.g. gold, aluminum, copper, etc).

Brace yourselves as we observe the performance of this bad boy since inception:

This is definitely the black sheep of the family β€” in the 15 years of it's existence, it's actually lost money -- to the tune of -2.59%/year! 🫒

For reference, the market gained 6.64%/year during that same period!

What sane person would put any money in this ETF, especially with the insane 0.85% expense ratio?!

I had to summon the energy to keep going β€” have a look the Top 10 holdings:

SymbolNameWeight
005930.KSSamsung Electronics Co Ltd12.78%
RELIANCE.NSReliance Industries Ltd5.45%
VALE3.SAVale SA3.68%
1120.SRAl Rajhi Bank2.33%
000660.KSSK Hynix Inc2.05%
005935.KQSamsung Electronics Co Ltd Participating Preferred1.98%
006400.KSSamsung SDI Co Ltd1.53%
HINDUNILVR.NSHindustan Unilever Ltd1.48%
051910.KSLG Chem Ltd1.37%
1810.HKXiaomi Corp Class B1.32%
Top 10 (Show All)33.98%
Last updated: 4 Jan, 2023

The Top 10 holdings represent a whopping 33.98% of the index … tisk, tisk! Bad performance and poor diversification. I really am starting to wonder why iShares even bothers anymore. What an abominition of an ETF!

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Halal ETFs in your country

Not all the halal ETFs we described above are available in all countries. In this section, we'll discuss the country-specific issues that relate to investing in halal ETFs.

The challenge with Halal ETFs in particular is that they typically trade in low volumes. When brokerage firms decide on which stocks to include, they typically use volume as a stand-in for interest. "Low volumes? Low interest β€” we don't need to list that", they might say.

This is despite these ETFs holding some of the most liquid stocks in the world! (We discuss a solution to this problem in the next section)

Halal ETFs in Canada

You should be able to access US ETFs through most brokers in Canada (e.g. WealthSimple, IBKR, etc). Just keep in mind that you'll need to pay a currency conversion fee when funding your account or withdrawing. That's because US stock markets only operate in USD.

Oh, and be sure to avoid CFDs. Those are by the near-unanimous conclusion of Muslim scholars, considered non-halal.

If you're trading in a non-registered investment account, the IRS withholds 15% of your dividends paid by US companies. You could also trade using your Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) to keep all the profits you make (since they don't incur capital gains tax)

If you have an account with a broker that doesn't support any of the halal ETFs we discussed above, then the next section is for you.

Halal ETFs in the UK

You should be able to access US ETFs through most brokers in the United Kingdom (e.g. FreeTrade, Trading 212, etc). Just keep in mind that you'll need to pay a currency conversion fee when funding your account or withdrawing (which can be hefty). That's because US stock markets only operate in USD.

If you have an account with a broker that doesn't support any of the halal ETFs we discussed above, then the next section is for you.

You could also consider signing up for a broker that offers USD accounts to international investors (e.g. Amal Invest).

Which should I pick?

So after the deep dive you're probably thinking: "Ok, that was a lot of info. How am I supposed to decide on which one(s) to pick?"

The short answer is:

For US πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ, HLAL is the best choice overall β€” in terms of performance.

For International 🌐, you're looking at WSHR β€” though you'd need to make sure your broker has access to stocks listed on the Canadian NEO exchange.

Remember, I'm assuming that you're picking an ETF because you don't have the time/interest to do the research to find the best stocks to invest in. Instead, you just want to 'buy the market' and are satisfied with average returns.

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FAQs

Q) Since SPUS is domiciled in the US, won't I owe more tax (vs. say, ISDU, which is domiciled in Ireland)?

A) Assuming you're a foreign (non-US) investor, yes. You'd be liable for 30% tax on SPUS/HLAL dividend returns vs. 15% on ISDU/ISDE/ISDW. The crucial point is that this is 30% of the dividend yield β€” itself only ~1%/yr. The end result is almost negligible β€” at $$$(30% - 15%) * 1% = 0.15%$$$. The performance difference is a much more important consideration. I've written a detailed article on tax for foreign investors here.

References

[^1]: The MSCI USA Islamic Index reflects Sharia investment principles and is designed to measure the performance of the large and mid cap segments of the US market that are relevant for Islamic investors. The index, with 97 constituents applies stringent screens to exclude securities based on two types of criteria: business activities and financial ratios derived from total assets. Source

[^2]: Tracks the S&P 500, filtering out all non-Shariah compliant stocks

[^3]: I describe it as a fee for simplification. In reality, this amount is deducted from the NAV (Net Asset Value) that underpins the ETF, and not directly from the investors.

[^4]: This is not tax advice, and I'm not your tax attorney. If you're unsure about where you stand from a tax perspective, it's a good idea to consult with someone who is.

[^5]: For reference, the S&P500's Top 10 (which many complain about being too concentrated) represent just ~25%

[^6]: Deciding solely on return since inception is misleading because our assessment gets impacted by macroeconomic factors that impact the economy as a whole.

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