It's a funny thing, the world of exchange traded funds (ETFs). Despite the fact that there are now 1,000 members of the ETF club and more joining everyday, it seems that a select few garner most of the headlines. When it comes to emerging markets, everyone knows about the iShares Emerging Markets Index (NYSE:EEM) and the iShares MSCI Brazil (NYSE:EWZ). On the financials front, there are several traditional and leveraged ETFs that get most of the fanfare. Name a sector or ETF genre, and you're likely to find several competing products with one getting most of the attention.
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Well, as is the case with stocks, a lack of coverage doesn't mean a lack of profit potential with ETFs. With that, we decided to find a few ETFs that don't get a lot of attention, but fulfill appealing niches. Let's have a look at our list.
iShares S&P Latin America 40 Index (NSYE:ILF)
Sector: Latin America
YTD Return: 86%
SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Index (NYSE:XOP)
YTD Return: 30%
Vanguard Europe Pacific ETF (NYSE:VEA)
YTD Return: 28%
More than just Brazil
As we've said many times in the past, there's more to investing in Latin America than just Brazil. At the same time, the returns offered by Brazilian stocks in 2009 have been to alluring to ignore. That means it might be a good idea to combine some Brazilian investments with a few from other Latin America locales. The iShares S&P Latin America 40 Index is one way to do just that.
ILF is Brazil heavy as South America's largest country account for eight of the ETF's top 10 holdings, and 63.5% of all holdings, but Mexico is also represented as ILF holds telecom giant American Movil (NYSE:AMX) and cement maker Cemex (NYSE:CX).
ILF isn't completely undiscovered. There have been a couple of bullish reports on the ETF over the past month, but does pale in coverage comparison to the likes of EEM and EWZ. If you want to diversify your Latin American exposure, consider ILF.
Another Oil ETF
There are plenty of ETFs that track the oil and natural gas industries, but the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF is pretty unique. While most ETFs in this genre focus on the underlying commodity or hold shares in common names like Chevron (NYSE:CVX), ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), XOP offers a little more diversity and a focus on more midcap names.
XOP has gotten a small amount of press as well, but more importantly, the ETF could prove to be an excellent way to play rising oil demand and prices, increased auto production and a weaker U.S. dollar.
Truly Global Exposure
The Vanguard Europe Pacific ETF is truly a global play and it is one of the ETFs that has helped Vanguard make a footprint in the ETF business. The ETF tracks the MSCI EAFE Index. VEA's largest holding HSBC (NYSE:HBC) accounts for just 1.74% of the total makeup, and other familiar names include BP (NYSE:BP), Toyota Motor (NYSE:TM) and Telefonica (NYSE:TEF).
In some respects, VEA is comparable to EEM in that it gives investors exposure to a large amount of emerging markets, and that's appealing because stock-picking in emerging markets can be tricky, but VEA also places an emphasis on developed markets making it a good idea for more conservative investors.
Press coverage on VEA has been pretty scant, but the ETF trades more than 992,000 shares a day and is up nearly 28% year-to-date. If you want the globe in your portfolio and don't want to buy a dozen stocks, VEA is worth a look.
The Bottom Line: Make Your Own Headlines
Popularity doesn't always breed success. That much is evident in the stock market and history has shown the best returns often take place before the entire world knows about a particular investment. All three of the ETFs mentioned here have good liquidity, so they're not completely unknown. Take a look for yourself and you'll likely find a worthwhile opportunity - or three. (Learn more about ETFs in ETFs Vs Index Funds: Quantifying The Differences.)
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