The 3 Worst ETFs Right Now

By Todd Shriber | March 29, 2010 AAA

Much as there is always opportunity during perilous market environments, the bears can find a hide-out, or a few hide-outs, when the bulls are in charge. Such is the case in today's market. While it may seem like the bulls are in charge right now, and they are for the most part, there are more than a few exchange traded funds (ETFs) out there for selective bears to sink their claws into.

IN PICTURES: 10 Reasons To Add ETFs To Your Portfolio

No Fiesta for Spain
Greece's dire fiscal situation has raised the age-old question about when the next proverbial shoe is going to drop. Considering Fitch Ratings' recent downgrade of Portugal's sovereign debt, many market observers would say that Portugal is that shoe. Well, in light of the fact there isn't a Greece-specific or Portugal-specific ETF for shorts to latch onto, Spain, another economy facing questionable concern, is worth a look.

The iShares MSCI Spain Index (NYSE:EWP) is down nearly 11% year-to-date and most folks would attribute those declines to problems in Greece and Portugal. Then again, Spain is no prize when it comes to positive economic indicators. The country is one of the few in the Eurozone whose economy is still contracting and if you think the U.S. has a problem with unemployment, and it does, consider Spain's 20% rate of joblessness. (Find out which countries are doing better in Countries With The Lowest Unemployment Rates.)

Spain's economy has been roiled by an overcooked housing market and the unemployment rate makes EWP fertile hunting ground for the bears.

Inflation Concerns in Vietnam
Asia's emerging economies have been rewarding for the bulls, but Vietnam certainly looks like a possible exception as the Market Vectors Vietnam ETF (NYSE: \VNM) is down 17% in the past six months, significantly lagging the returns offered by Indonesia (NYSE:IDX), Malaysia (NYSE:EWM) and Thailand-specific (NYSE:THD) ETFs.

Vietnam recently devalued its currency, the dong, for the second time in three months and third time in two years and Fitch has put the country's credit rating on watch for possible downgrade. To make matters worse, Vietnam's central bank seems reluctant to raise interest rates despite the fact that inflation soared to 9.46%, a 12-month high, in March. A rising budget deficit is another ingredient that makes VNM worth a look from the short side.

Another Dropping European Shoe?
Italy is home to many a fancy shoe designer, but the country could be next up on the list problematic European economic footwear. While the iShares MSCI Italy Index (NYSE:EWI) has gotten a nice bounce recently on the hope for a Greece bailout, there are some aspects to Italy's economy that qualify as anything but designer couture.

A debt-to-GDP ratio of 115% is downright startling. Speaking of Italy's GDP, it contracted in the fourth quarter while the unemployment rate there jumped to 8.6% in January, the eighth consecutive month of rising joblessness.

How inviting is a short in EWI? Consider that the European Union struggled to find a solution for Greece's problems, which in 2008 was the 28th largest economy in the world. This means that the EU's ability to handle Portugal's potential tribulations will also be put to the test as Portugal is merely the 38th largest economy. Italy is the seventh-largest economy and if problems there worsen, watch out. EWI could be in for a wild ride to the downside.

Stay Away ... Far Away
One thing is clear: in the world of ETFs, an investor can find far better options than the three choices highlighted here. That's not to say all of three of these ETFs are going to fall in a straight line. EWI and EWP in particular have seen and could see more near-term bounces, but playing that trend is difficult unless you can monitor your trades on a real-time basis. Either way, these ETFs should ultimately end up reflecting the underlying weakness in their respective economies. (For many reasons, high dividend yields can be dangerous. Read on to find out how. See Undesirable Dividends.)

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