Emerging Market ETFs For Your Retirement Accounts

By Socrates Alvarez | February 13, 2013 AAA

One of the key objectives in planning your retirement is determining what asset allocation approach best fits your future income needs. How to go about doing that is often the subject of debate. Traditionally, financial wisdom advises a portfolio divided between stocks and bonds, with the former taking precedent in your investments during your early earning years and the latter, more stable investment forming the bulk of your retirement fund, as you approach your twilight years.

However, while this approach to diversification across asset classes is useful, in this article we'll look at one way you can do it within asset classes ­- namely, with international, emerging market equities. After 2008 left some would-be retirees out in the cold and talking heads preached future doom over fiscal cliff fears, it's fair to assume that some investors are a little pessimistic about holding primarily domestic securities and are seeking safety beyond U.S. borders. Here are a few emerging market ETFs to consider if you're looking for a modicum of stable growth in your portfolio.

Stability in International Equities
Emerging market equities are typically seen as riskier investments due to their exposure to the political, economic and currency risks inherent in the developing world. While these risks may deter many from investing their retirement money into foreign companies, a few ETFs focus on mitigating these risks.


Let's take a look at the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Minimum Volatility Index Fund (EEMV). Its underlying benchmark follows 213 large-cap and mid-cap companies with a large portion of holdings allocated to the financial, consumer staples and telecom industries. Moreover, EEMV's weightings are not heavily skewed toward any particular security, thus reducing the risk of any one stock dragging the net asset value (NAV) down. These restrictions, coupled with an expense ratio of 0.25% and a 20% return since its 2011 inception, make this ETF an attractive choice for an investor looking for asset diversification without exposing him or herself to too much uncertainty.

Dividend Growth

Another way to judge the value of an emerging market ETF for your retirement portfolio is by whether it provides steady dividends. Because of the power of dividends, these kinds of investments are often sought after by retirees hoping to live off relatively safe, income-producing funds. The WisdomTree Emerging Markets Equity Income Fund (DEM) is a fundamentally weighted index fund holding high dividend-yielding companies, many of which are in BRIC countries. Similar to EEMV, DEM's underlying index primarily holds financials and telecoms, and it limits itself to large-cap companies. Despite these restrictions and a focus on quarterly dividend distributions, DEM's five year-average annual return of about 2.02% dwarfs returns made by a much larger (and riskier) emerging market fund, the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Market ETF (VWO), which in the last five years has had an average annual return of approximately -1.63%.

Low Fee ETFs
If you subscribe to a more EMH-based approach to emerging market investing, you probably want to focus more on reducing your costs. Much like EEMV and DEM, the Schwab Emerging Markets Equity ETF (SCHE) invests primarily in BRIC countries and their financial industries. However, unlike the other funds, this ETF boasts one of the lowest expense ratios on the market, at just 0.15%. In other words, an investment of $10,000 in SCHE for one year would have a bill of $15. Meanwhile, if you had bought this fund six months ago, your investment would have returned over $700.

The Bottom Line
Your retirement savings doesn't have to stay in stocks and bonds, and emerging market ETFs aren't only for risk lovers. A little research online yields a few interesting ideas for prospective investments, many of which fall within that grey area between income investing and aggressive growth.

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