Is It Time To Buy The Philippines ETF 'EPHE'?


The iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index Fund (EPHE - News) was among the hottest single-country ETFs in the first half of the year, obscuring other “Asian Tiger” funds as the most viable alternative to China.

There’s no guarantee the ETF will continue on its torrid pace, but in the first half, the fund rose by more than a quarter, compared with a decline of 1.29 percent for the iShares MSCI Indonesia Investable Market Index Fund (EIDO - News), one of the highest-returning single-country Asia ETFs of the past few years.

As the Financial Times wrote in a recent piece, the Philippines has a lot going for it these days, including low inflation, a stable currency, growth above 6 percent and a government that’s willing to spend serious money on updating the archipelago nation’s dilapidated infrastructure.

In any case, investors are eyeing Asian countries outside of China amid mounting views that growth is slowing in the world’s second-biggest economy. A Barron’s story over the weekend, citing research by Nomura, took that theme one step further, arguing it’s entirely possible Chinese growth could drop by half to 4 percent a year from just over 8 percent currently.

Such as sharp drop-off might well stop the Philippines ETF, EPHE—and a whole lot more—dead in its tracks, but so far this year, investors appear to be on the prowl for investment exposure in Asia that steers clear of China.

Indeed, Van Eck’s Market Vectors Vietnam ETF (VNM - News) was right behind EPHE’s 27.56 percent in first-half returns, rising 26.25 percent, according to data compiled by IndexUniverse.

In broad perspective, both the Philippines and Vietnam are quickly developing reputations as lower-cost alternatives to China for companies looking to keep manufacturing and labor costs under control.

Egypt And Turkey

The only other single-country ETFs that beat out the two Asian funds were both in the Middle East.

The top-performing single-country fund in the 2012 first half was the Market Vectors Egypt ETF (EGPT - News), which climbed by nearly a third.

It’s impossible to say if EGPT will keep rallying, as the country and the ETF have been on something of a roller-coaster ride over the past year.

First, demonstrators ousted Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president for about 30 years, in one of the first casualties of the so-called Arab Spring early in 2011.

Since then, Egypt embarked on a circuitous journey toward its first-ever democratic election, which ended with the election of Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi is a public figure with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization, which leaves many wondering what the future holds for one of the Middle East’s biggest and most influential countries.

The other single-country ETF that made it onto IndexUniverse’s top 10 funds list was the iShares MSCI Turkey Investable Market Index Fund (TUR - News). Turkey has been on the short list of hot developing-market investment destinations for a number of years.

TUR returned almost 30 percent in the first half, a function of a well-managed economy that has a relatively large and growing services sector.

The country’s expanding influence and wealth has been a boon to investors, but is also front-and-center in a shifting geopoliticaal picture in the oil-rich Middle East.



The One Downer

On the flip side, the one single-country ETF that fell flat on its face in the first half of the year was the Global X FTSE Argentina 20 ETF (ARGT - News).

It’s a puny ETF—just $2.5 million in assets—but that didn’t stop it from losing more than a quarter of its value in the first six months of the year.

At a time of renaissance in much of Latin America, Argentina has the unfortunate reputation of being the poster-child of macro-economic mismanagement.

Its policies are choking growth and exports and stoking inflationary pressures, according to the CIA Factbook .

Top 10 Performers YTD (Excluding Leveraged and Inverse as well as 2012 launches)

Ticker Name YTD TRR YTD Flows ($,M) AUM ($,M)
ITB iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction 41.86 242.17 806.84
FBT First Trust NYSE Arca Biotechnology 34.14 6.17 249.95
XBI SPDR S'P Biotech 33.24 76.13 641.43
EGPT Market Vectors Egypt 32.88 -5.64 41.37
TUR iShares MSCI Turkey Investable Market 29.81 -34.71 406.83
BBH Market Vectors Biotech 29.43 21.47 105.89
EPHE iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market 27.56 52.86 143.66
VNM Market Vectors Vietnam 26.25 59.93 301.30
XHB SPDR S'P Homebuilders 25.72 264.43 1,361.99
IBB iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology 24.75 212.64 1,962.16

Bottom 10 Performers YTD (Excluding Leveraged and Inverse as well as 2012 launches)
Ticker Name YTD TRR YTD Flows ($,M) AUM ($,M)
KWT Market Vectors Solar Energy -29.27 -4.15 0.63
GLDX Global X Gold Explorers -29.12 13.88 28.08
JO iPath Dow Jones-UBS Coffee Total Return ETN -27.76 9.47 27.06
CAFE iPath Pure Beta Coffee ETN -26.47 1.00 2.42
ARGT Global X FTSE Argentina 20 -26.36 0.00 2.84
TAN Guggenheim Solar -25.75 13.52 50.25
UNG United States Natural Gas -25.35 284.41 1,117.03
CTNN iPath Pure Beta Cotton ETN -23.95 1.05 2.47
KOL Market Vectors Coal -23.94 -96.40 174.70
GDXJ Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners -22.23 722.03 2,120.45


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