As the number of exchange-traded products available to U.S. investors has swelled to around 1,000 (that number includes both ETFs and ETNs), an interesting trend has become apparent. It is one that has been present (and problematic) with individual stocks for decades: With so many options out there, some winning ETFs are bound to go unnoticed by the mainstream financial media.
IN PICTURES: 10 Reasons To Add ETFs To Your Portfolio
It's a familiar refrain. When it comes to stocks, because several thousand individual issues are trading on U.S. exchanges, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and others usually devote the bulk of their focus to large companies. You don't need to be a Wall Street pro to pick which stocks from various sectors are media favorites. Unfortunately, this practice has carried over to the world of ETFs.
Breaking it down even further, emerging market ETFs are one subsector of the ETF universe that is deeply impacted by a narrow, repetitive focus on the same funds. Usually, this means it's really easy to find news about ETFs like the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (NYSE: EEM), the Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (NYSE: VWO), and on the country-specific level, the iShares/FTSE Xinhua China 25 Index Fund (NYSE: FXI) and the iShares MSCI Brazil Index Fund (NYSE: EWZ).
Well, those ETFs haven't been hitting new 52-week highs lately, but we have found a group that has been accomplishing that feat recently. It may not be too late to catch some decent gains in a couple of the "under the radar" funds we're going to look at.
A Potpourri Of Emerging Markets In One Fund
After flirting with a new 52-week high for a couple of weeks, the WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (NYSE: DGS) finally broke through to a new high last week and did so on strong volume. An average daily trading volume of less than 134,000 shares may be one reason why DGS hasn't gotten much press, but the ETF does have almost $393 million in assets, so this fund is here to stay.
Speaking of assets, someone must have taken notice of DGS in August because $77 million in fresh investments poured into the ETF last month. That's equal to 20% of July assets under management. In addition to a 3% yield, another reason to have a look at DGS is the ETF doesn't force you to pick a specific market. The fund devotes almost 20% of its weight to Taiwan, but South Africa, South Korea and Thailand all get allocations of more than 10%.
DGS may have some gas left in its tank as it is trading more than $3 away from its all-time high, which was set about three years ago when the ETF made its trading debut.
Grab A Slice Of PIE
Despite its cute ticker, the PowerShares DWA Emerging Markets Technical Leaders ETF (NYSE: PIE) doesn't get much press either. The volume is decent at almost 262,000 shares per day, but considering that PIE is up almost 24% in the past year, it isn't getting much love. Some investors are starting to take note of PIE, as $92 million in new investments flowed into the ETF in August. That was almost triple what the ETF had at the end of July, making for an impressive haul.
Like DGS, PIE doesn't force investors to pick a particular country; and even better, PIE doesn't make investors choose among a specific market cap either. The ETF is about 40% weighted to large- and mid-caps, and the rest goes to small-caps. At the country level, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia all get double-digit weights, and China and Mexico are close to the 10% level.
If volume continues to pick up, and if new capital continues to want to call PIE home, the ETF's recent rally may only be starting.
A Chinese Juggernaut
The number of China-specific ETFs has grown exponentially in the past year, but pundits tend to focus on the large-cap offerings such as the aforementioned FXI and the PowerShares Golden Dragon Halter USX China ETF (NYSE: PGJ). Pick your time horizon, year-to-date, six months or three months, and you'll find that the Claymore/AlphaShares China Small Cap ETF (NYSE: HAO) is the king of the hill.
HAO is an exception among the ETFs we've mentioned here, because it gets a decent amount of press compared to DGS and PIE, though not nearly as much as FXI, and HAO has not hit a new 52-week high during its recent rally, though it's close.
Performance alone indicates that HAO is a superior option among China-specific ETFs, but look at sector diversity, too. Three sectors - financials, energy and telecom - account for more than 85% of FXI's weight. On the other hand, four sectors account for about two-thirds of HAO's weight with only a fraction of the exposure to financials that FXI features.
Bottom Line: It's Not A Popularity Contest
Obviously, this trio of ETFs shows that it is performance, not popularity, that matters. As for the outlook going forward, as long as investors continue to be smitten with emerging markets, all of these ETFs have the potential to add to their recent runs. HAO is probably the highest-risk option given how volatile Chinese stocks can be. But with its exposure to several strong markets, DGS looks like the winning play here. (This specialty vehicle offers dramatic results, but it can also magnify risk. To learn more, read Rebound Quickly With Leveraged ETFs.)
Use the Investopedia Stock Simulator to trade the stocks mentioned in this stock analysis, risk free!