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High-Beta ETF Holds Up in Emerging Markets


The month of May was not a pretty one for major, diversified emerging markets ETFs. The largest members of that group, the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (EEM) , were both sitting on monthly losses of more than 3% heading into Friday’s trading session.

Any number of factors can be blamed for the woes encountered by those ETFs. Slack Chinese economic data. Interest rate cuts that have yet to bear fruit for the likes of South Korea, Thai and Turkish stocks. A disappointing first-quarter GDP report out of Brazil that was accompanied by an interest rate hike. And on and on. [Emerging Markets ETF Tests Long Term Support]

In what may be a surprise to some devotees of emerging markets ETFs, one tiny outpaced its larger rivals this month. Even more surprising is that the PowerShares S&P Emerging Markets High Beta Portfolio (EEHB) does what it name implies and that is focus on high-beta stocks. Yet, EEHB only fell about 0.7% in May. That performance, while obviously not good, is impressive when considering China, South Korea and Brazil represent about 62% of the ETF’s country weight. [New ETFs Track Higher Volatility International Stocks]

Beta is a measure of a stock’s sensitivity to moves in the broad market. A stock with a beta below 1 is less volatile than the market, while a beta over 1 means it is more volatile.

EEHB outpacing the likes of EEM and VWO in May could be another, albeit small, sign that the cyclical rotation is gaining some momentum. There are at least two reasons why EEHB could be showing investors that is the case. First, the ETF does embody its high-beta advertisement by allocating a combined 39% of its weight to materials and energy names.

Second, May represents a stunning reversal of fortune for EEHB against its larger peers. Year-to-date and over the past three months, the high-beta offering has been noticeably worse than EEM and VWO. Affirming the notion that EEHB is credible cyclical rotation trade, the ETF’s May loss was only about a third of that of the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Minimum Volatility Index Fund’s (NYSEArca: EEMV ), an ETF designed to be a lower risk entry to developing world equities.

None of this is to say EEHB is the perfect emerging markets ETF. It has just $2.1 million in assets under management, though that number could move higher if the cyclical rotation theme gains momentum. Additionally, the S&P BMI Emerging Markets High Beta Index, the ETF’s underlying index has historically underperformed the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, according to PowerShares data.

With the near-term outlook for emerging markets equities and ETFs murky, the obvious must be remembered with EEHB. That is the ETF will need high-beta sectors to fully come into style along with getting the benefit of two of China, South Korea and Brazil perking up.

PowerShares S&P Emerging Markets High Beta Portfolio

ETF Trends editorial team contributed to this piece.

Full disclosure: Tom Lydon’s clients own EEM.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.