A South Korea exchange-traded fund (ETF) is comprised of the securities of companies based in South Korea and/or listed on South Korean exchanges. South Korea is one of the famous Four Asian Tigers, along with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, and it is home to some of the largest industrial and technological firms in the world.
Since the 1960s, very few countries boast as consistent and explosive an economic growth pattern as South Korea. It is the third-largest economy in Southeast Asia, trailing only top-five global economies in Japan and China.
Despite its growth and success, South Korea is not the target of many large ETFs. This leaves room for up-and-coming managers to seize on potentially untapped equity returns. Such managers should find the next three ETFs—considering their exposure—as worthy of serious consideration.
iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY)
Very few funds dominate a single national equity market the way that the iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY) dominates South Korea. BlackRock launched EWY in 2000 and linked it to the Morgan Stanley Capital International Korea Index. This index is float-adjusted and, like most iShares, is weighted by market capitalization. This means that the largest South Korean companies are well-represented in EWY.
The top 10 holdings for EWY account for nearly half of total assets under management. The largest holding, Samsung Electronics, represents more than 20% of all AUM; investors should understand the potential risks of such a top-heavy ETF. Other large holdings include POSCO (PKX), Hyundai (HYMTF) and LG Chemical.
With more than $4.4 billion in managed assets, this ETF is nearly 30 times larger than any of its direct competitors, most of which are much younger.
Korea KOSPI 200 ETF (HKOR)
The KOSPI 200 ETF (HKOR) is a little-known, young and infrequently traded fund, but it could fit as a satellite holding as a Southeast Asian buy-and-hold equity. HKOR has low expenses – 38 bps – and tracks an index of 200 blue-chip firms.
HKOR was issued by the Toronto-based Horizons ETFs Group in 2014, and it represents Horizons' cheapest fund. This is considered a giant value play, but it should not be an actively traded ETF because of its low volume and short track record.
Like all South Korea ETFs, this fund is heavy in technology (Samsung especially). After tech stocks, the HKOR portfolio is surprisingly balanced. Basic materials, consumer cyclical stocks, financial services, defensive stocks and industrials each come in between 9 and 13% of total assets.
Franklin FTSE South Korea ETF (FLKR)
A much smaller ETF with only $14.8 million AUM is the Franklin South Korea ETF. The ETF target large and mid-sized companies in South Korea, spreading investor exposure over many sectors including IT, consumer staples, consumer discretionary, materials, financials, and healthcare.
FLKR highlights many of the same companies as EWY, companies such as Samsung, POSCO, Hyundai, Naver, and others. There looks to be consistency in their overlapping. However, the expense ratio of 0.09% vs. the rather high 0.59% of EWY shows why FLKR, even though it's smaller, makes sense for many investors as it offers similar exposure but without the high expense ratio.