An EM ETF for Risk-Tolerant Investors

ETF Trends

To this point in Thursday’s trading session, over 15 emerging markets exchange traded funds have made new 52-week highs, confirming that after a couple of disappointing years, developing world equities are bouncing back.

Emerging markets ETFs are usually perceived to be riskier and more volatile than their developed markets counterparts. Beta and standard deviation data prove as much, but investors that have had the stomach for some added emerging markets beta have been rewarded by the PowerShares S&P Emerging Markets High Beta Portfolio (EEHB) .

The oft-overlooked EEHB tracks the S&P BMI Emerging Markets High Beta Index is comprised “the 200 stocks from the S&P Emerging BMI Plus LargeMid Cap Index with the highest sensitivity to market movements, or beta, over the past 12 months,” according to PowerShares.

Elevated beta, particularly with developing world stocks, cuts both ways and that has been seen with EEHB. As emerging markets stocks struggled last year, the ETF tumbled 16%, delivering a performance that was more than twice as bad as the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

With emerging markets ETFs back in style this year, EEHB is up more than 19% after hitting new 52-week high Thursday. That says investors have been fairly compensated for the increased risk associated with a an explicit high beta play on developing economies. EEHB’s 19% 2014 gain is 700 basis points better than the average return posted by the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) . [Winning Smart Beta ETFs]

EEHB’s country is, of course, not the most docile as far as emerging markets ETFs are concerned. The ETF features no exposure to Taiwan or Malaysia and a mere 5.4% weight to South Korea. Those are three of the lowest beta emerging markets. [Time for Taiwan ETFs]

Conversely, EEHB is overweight some of the most controversial developing markets. Turkey, no stranger to domestic political tensions, and South Africa with one of the highest unemployment rates in the emerging world, combine for almost 34% of EEHB’s as the ETF’s two largest country weights.

The average beta on the on the iShares MSCI Turkey ETF (TUR) and the iShares MSCI South Africa ETF (EZA) is 1.5 compared to 0.9 for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, according to iShares data.

EEHB’s 15.2% weight to China is about 250 basis points underweight compared to the MSCI index, but the PowerShares ETF features an 11.1% weight to Indonesia. That compares to 2.6% in the MSCI index. The higher Indonesia exposure has benefited EEHB as stocks in Southeast Asia’s largest economy have surged this year on expectations of Joko Widodo’s presidential nomination. The major Indonesia ETFs are among this year’s 10 best non-leveraged ETFs. [Indonesia ETFs Rally Ahead of Election]

PowerShares S&P Emerging Markets High Beta Portfolio

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Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of EEM.

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