What Was the World Equity Benchmark Series (WEBS)?

The World Equity Benchmark Series (WEBS) was an international fund traded on the American Stock Exchange. It was introduced in 1996 by Morgan Stanley and was a type of hybrid security that possesses qualities of both open-end and closed-end funds.

In 2000, WEBS was renamed to iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF seeks to track the investment results of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, an index composed of large- and mid-capitalization emerging market equities. 

Key Takeaways

  • In 2000, the World Equity Benchmark Series (WEBS) was renamed to iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Exchange Traded Fund (ETF).
  • The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF seeks to track the investment results of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, an index composed of large- and mid-capitalization emerging market equities.
  • The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF is similar to the SPDR S&P 500 Trust, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) managed by State Street Global Advisors that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500).

Understanding the World Equity Benchmark Series (WEBS)

A closed-end fund is a fund formed as a publicly traded investment. These funds can raise a designated amount of capital with an initial public offering. The money collected goes into a fund that is then listed as a stock and traded on a public exchange. It is a specialized stock portfolio with a one-time fixed number of shares. An open-end fund is a conventional mutual fund, made up of a pool of money from many investors for investing in stocks and bonds. Investors share gains and losses in proportion to their investment in the fund.

An organization that used a WEBS owned each of the securities traded on the MSCI country indexes. Ownership was in an approximate ratio to the initial capitalization or investment. A WEBS could be bought, sold, and traded like stocks.

Investors could use the WEBS to achieve international diversification. The World Equity Benchmark Series was available for many different countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The name change of the World Equity Benchmark Series (WEBS) to iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF was intended to reflect the consistent brand name for all exchange-traded funds managed by Barclays Global Investors (now BlackRock).

At the time, the indexes included iShares MSCI Australia, iShares MSCI Austria, iShares MSCI Belgium, iShares MSCI Canada, iShares MSCI France, iShares MSCI Germany, iShares MSCI Hong Kong, iShares MSCI Italy, iShares MSCI Japan, iShares MSCI Malaysia, iShares MSCI Mexico, iShares MSCI Netherlands, iShares MSCI Singapore, iShares MSCI South Korea, iShares MSCI Spain, iShares MSCI Sweden, iShares MSCI Switzerland, and iShares MSCI United Kingdom.

iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF and the SPDR S&P 500 Trust

The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF is similar to the SPDR S&P 500 Trust, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) managed by State Street Global Advisors that tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500). Formerly, the SPDR S&P 500 Trust was simply called the Standard & Poor's depository receipt. More often, it was shortened to SPDR and referred to as a "spider."

Each share of an SPDR S&P 500 Trust contains one-tenth of the S&P 500 index and trades at roughly one-tenth the dollar-value level of the S&P 500. Investors can use the SPDR S&P 500 Trust to realize broad diversification to specific portions of the market.

For example, the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF is an investment vehicle that seeks to provide investment results that track the total return performance of the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats Index. This means that the SPDR S&P Dividend ETF indexes dividend-paying stocks that are a part of the S&P 500. The ETF is made up of a total of 112 companies and tracks performance through its net asset value, which is communicated as a price per share.