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What is a total return or "-TR" symbol?

Many stocks and exchange traded funds pay dividends that are significant enough that the dividends make up a significant portion of the total return of that stock or ETF. So when analysing the performance of a security, it is often not sufficient to just look at a chart of the market price of a security.

So on our website, we have invented a class of symbols that we call "total return symbols". They aren't official symbols at all, but our invention. Our total return symbols always have the same format: the symbol of the original security (stock or ETF), plus a "-TR" at the end. For example, the total return symbol for SPY, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, is "SPY-TR".

Our total return symbol tracks the market price of the security, plus any dividends from that security. And we assume that those dividends are reinvested into that security. Our total return symbols are updated nightly in our database.

Here is SPY's total return symbol, SPY-TR:

It's a way to show that SPY's dividends, which typically are around 2% per year, can add up over the long-run.

Our calculations for the total return symbols are identical to that way that the index industry always prepares a "total return index" for every index. The idea is the same. For example, here is our total return symbol, SPY-TR, compared to the S&P 500 Total Return Index (SP500TR):

Total return symbols are great for comparing two securities that have significantly different dividend yields. For example, QQQ, the Invesco NASDAQ-100 Index ETF, tracks the NASDAQ-100 Index, an index with a heavy focus on information technology and other growth stocks that don't pay very high dividends. It's market price has performed really well compared to SPY:

But QQQ has historically paid a dividend of around 1%, compared to SPY's historical dividend rate of around 2%. If you factor in the lower dividend, has QQQ still outperformed SPY?

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