State Street Global Advisors introduced six new exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in March that give investors yet another option for international exposure. The six ETFs cover nearly every populated area of the world, sans the United States. At first glance the highlight of the group was the SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa ETF (AMEX: GAF).
Until now the ETF industry has lacked a product that concentrates specifically on the volatile Middle East region. The first thought in many investors' minds when thinking of the Middle East is either oil or war. Both are true and both increase the risk of investing in the region. That being said, there is growth potential that is unparalleled to most emerging countries. (Want to learn more about the risks and rewards of EMEs? See, What Is An Emerging Market Economy? )
Unfortunately, after researching GAF in more depth I found the makeup of the ETF to be less than attractive. Two-thirds of the assets are in South Africa with Israel making up another 19%. With 85% of all assets in two countries this ETF fails to give an investor exposure to the entire region and is too concentrated in South Africa.
Drilling for Profits in Russia
The SPDR S&P Emerging Europe ETF (AMEX: GUR) also looks to a high risk region of the world for above average returns. GUR has 60% of its assets invested in Russia, followed by Poland, Turkey, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Of the group, my two favorite investment opportunities are Russia and Turkey based on current risk versus reward.
If your goal is to gain exposure to the large oil & gas companies in Russia, then look no further. The top three holdings, which make up 40% of the ETF, are large-cap Russian energy stocks. The number one holding, Gazprom, counts for 22% of the entire ETF. By offering U.S. investors direct access to the world of Russian oil, GUR should begin to attract big money as the ETF gains more media attention. With the price of oil rallying in the first quarter of 2007, the outlook for the Russian oil companies remains bullish. However, keep in mind there is high political risk associated with investing in unstable countries such as Russia.
The 4 Remaining ETFs
The four remaining ETFs mirror other products already available to investors. The SPDR S&P China ETF (NYSE: GXC) is composed of the large U.S.-traded Chinese stocks (NYSE: CHL, NYSE: PTR, and NYSE: LFC) with the finance sector making up 28% of the allocation. The ETF would be appropriate for an investor searching for exposure to the potential growth of China.
South of the border is covered in the SPDR S&P Emerging Latin America ETF (AMEX: GML). Brazil is the top holding and when combined with Mexico it accounts for over 80% of the ETF's allocation. Brazil has been a great growth story and is the place to be if you are looking to Latin America as an investment option. And surprisingly the Mexican stock market has been flying under the radar the last few years.
The SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific ETF (AMEX: GMF) invests in Southeast Asia with exposure to China as well. There is significant overlap between GMF and GXC, with many of the same stocks in the top 10. Therefore pick one or the other, but not both. China and Taiwan make up two-thirds of the ETF, followed by 17% in India.
Lastly, the SPDR S&P Emerging Market ETF (AMEX: GMM) takes the best of the entire group of region specific ETFs and rolls them into a single ETF. The top countries are China, Brazil, South Africa, and Russia. GMM is a great option for investors that would like to expose their portfolio to the emerging markets with one investment at a low cost (expense ratio of 0.6%).
In conclusion, the new ETFs offered by State Street Global Advisors are something investors should consider when looking abroad. In the same breath, I will say they do nothing to separate themselves from their competitors and in the end will be fighting for new assets.
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