Investing in Asia for 2016 returns could be difficult, as China's economic uncertainty overshadows the region. After diving 7% on the first trading day of 2016 and causing a worldwide sell-off, Chinese stocks certainly did not start 2016 on a high note. Weak manufacturing data was blamed for sparking the sell-off in Chinese equities, and many are left wondering if the Chinese economy is slated for a repeat of its summer 2015 meltdown.
Additionally, Japanese equities, which have been great performers the past several years, are forecast to struggle moving forward, thanks to limited options left for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to jump-start economic growth. In other words, investors looking for returns in Asia will likely have to turn to smaller, undervalued economies. However, investors seeking exposure to China and Japan should turn to low-volatility ETFs to gain broad exposure while limiting volatility exposure and risks.
IShares MSCI South Korea
One of the most undervalued markets in the world is in South Korea, where a large majority of stocks are trading below book value or at least below historical averages. Morgan Stanley is beginning to take a bullish stance on South Korea after recently upgrading its outlook to overweight on the country's stock market. The iShares MSCI South Korea ETF (NYSEARCA: EWY) is a suitable option for exposure to the South Korean market. The ETF currently has an expense ratio of 0.62% and yields 2.38%, but it struggled in 2015, finishing the year at -11.11%. The ETF is built around giant- and large-cap stocks, which hold 65.64% and 27.97% of the portfolio, respectively. Additionally, a vast 38.05% majority of the portfolio is allocated to technology stocks, 14.88% in consumer cyclical stocks and 13.77% is in financial services. The three largest holdings in the iShares MSCI South Korea ETF portfolio are Samsung at 20.49%, Hyundai Motors at 3.71% and Naver Corporation at 3%.
SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific
The SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific ETF (NYSEARCA: GMF) is a good option for broad exposure to emerging economies within Asia. However, this ETF has a sizable position within emerging Chinese stocks at around 46.3% of its portfolio. The ETF has 20% exposure to Taiwan, 4.6% to Malaysia, 4% to Thailand, 3.7% in Indonesian stocks and 3.7% in Philippine equities. The ETF currently has an expense ratio of 0.49% and yields an impressive 3.73%, but the ETF did slump -11.96% in 2015. While the SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific ETF has exposure to all market capitalizations, the majority of the portfolio is in giant- and large-cap stocks at 58.96% and 25.95%, respectively. Technology makes up the largest sector weighting at 25.63%, followed by the financial services sector at 23.48% and the consumer cyclical sector at 12.36%. The three largest portfolio holdings include Tencent Holdings at 3.97%, Alibaba Group at 3.26% and Taiwan Semiconductor at 3.03%.
IShares MSCI Asia ex-Japan Minimum Volatility
Investors seeking broad exposure to Asia with low volatility risk but without Japanese stock exposure should look to the iShares MSCI Asia ex-Japan Minimum Volatility ETF (NYSEARCA: AXJV). The ETF currently costs 0.35% and yields 2.27%, and the fund returned -8.87% in 2015. As with the other ETFs on this list, the majority of the portfolio is invested in giant- and large-cap stocks at 48.99% and 45.72%, respectively. The financial services sector makes up the largest holding at 25.76%, followed by the technology sector at 18.31% and the industrial sector at 12.41%. The three largest stock holdings in the iShares MSCI Asia ex-Japan Minimum Volatility ETF portfolio are Dr. Reddy's Laboratories at 1.84%, Wipro Limited at 1.74% and MTR Corporation at 1.71%.