Volatility is often a primary concern for investors considering emerging markets. That concern is valid as major benchmarks tracking developing economies, such as the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, are historically more volatile than developed market equivalents.
Good news: The low volatility phenomenon that applies to so many domestic exchange traded funds (ETFs) is accessible to investors considering emerging markets. The iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol Emerging Markets ETF (EEMV) is an example. EEMV can be looked at as the emerging markets answer to the popular iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol USA ETF (USMV).
EEMV follows the MSCI Emerging Markets Minimum Volatility Index, the low volatility offshoot of the widely followed MSCI Emerging Markets Index. Members of that index are "equities that, in the aggregate, have lower volatility characteristics relative to the broader emerging equity markets," according to iShares.
EEMV "offers a well-diversified, low-cost portfolio that should provide a smoother ride and better risk/reward profile than most of its peers in the category," notes Morningstar. "To achieve that, the fund uses an 'optimizer' to construct the least-volatile portfolio possible using constituents of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index under a set of constraints. It also limits sector and country tilts relative to the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, exposure to individual names, and turnover, which reduces transaction costs."
Investors should note that EEMV's primary objective is similar to that of USMV and other domestic low volatility ETFs. That objective is not so much to offer out-performance during bull markets, but to offer downside protection during rough markets. EEMV has made good on that, outperforming the MSCI Emerging Markets Index in 2014 and 2015, a trying period for developing world equities. Conversely, when the MSCI Emerging Markets Index jumped nearly 11% last year, EEMV rose just 3.3%.
That underscores the point that EEMV is doing what it is supposed to do. So does this statistic: EEMV's three-year standard deviation of about 12.4% is nearly 380 basis points below the three-year standard deviation found on the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
As a low volatility spin on emerging markets, EEMV's combined weight of almost 50% to China, Taiwan and South Korea is not surprising. Nor is the ETF's scant exposure to Brazilian stocks (Brazil is merely the 12th-largest country allocation in EEMV) or the fact that Russia accounts for just half a percent of EEMV's lineup.