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Middle East ETFs Rally, Top Oil’s Modest Bounce


Futures-based oil exchange traded funds, namely the United States Oil Fund (USO) and the United States Brent Oil Fund (BNO) , finished last week in fine form. Both USO and BNO jumped more than 3% off their Tuesday lows through the end of the week.

However, in what may be an equally encouraging sign for oil’s near-term outlooks, some Middle East equity markets and the relevant U.S.-listed ETFs are rallying and those rallies are easily outpacing the modest bounces seen last week in BNO and USO.

“Dubai’s stocks entered a bull market in the biggest two-day gain in the gauge’s history as oil prices rebounded and global equities rallied. Qatar’s main index also rose,” reports Sarmad Khan for Bloomberg.

A new bull market is defined as a gain of at least 20%, a qualification not yet being met by the iShares MSCI UAE Capped ETF (UAE) and the iShares MSCI Qatar Capped ETF (QAT) . However, the recent rallies for QAT, UAE and other Middle East have still been impressive after those ETFs suffered significant drubbings as oil prices plunged. [OPEC ETFs Decked by Oil's Slide]

From Dec. 16 through Dec. 19, UAE and QAT surged 10.8% and 6.9%, respectively. Those are impressive gains in short time frames to be sure, but those performances underscore the sensitivity of QAT, UAE and other Middle East ETFs to oil prices.

Since coming to market in late April, QAT and UAE are off 6.2% and 25.9%, respectively. Oil has been the primary culprit behind those declines, which is not surprising when considering UAE depends on oil revenue for nearly two-thirds of government receipts. In Qatar, that percentage is over 50%. [Oil's Fall Hampers Frontier Markets ETFs]

The rallies for QAT and UAE have sent both ETFs to noticeable premiums above their net asset values, including a premium of almost 5.8% in the case of QAT, according to iShares data.

Other Middle East are getting in the act as well. For the three months ending Dec. 15, the Market Vectors Gulf States Index ETF (MES) and the WisdomTree Middle East Dividend Fund (GULF) fell an average of 24.7%, but MES and GULF rallied 8.8% and 7.5% from Dec. 16 through Dec. 19.

Real estate developer Emaar Properties and Dubai Islamic Bank have been among the stocks leading advances in Dubai shares, according to Bloomberg, surging 31% and 14% in just the past two trading sessions.

Emaar Properties is the largest holding in MES at nearly 6.6% of the ETF’s weight while Dubai Islamic Bank accounts for another 1.1% of the fund’s weight.

Recent weakness in Middle East equities has GULF sporting a distribution yield of 6.6% and worth noting is that GULF’s underlying index recently increased its exposure to Kuwati equities. Predictably, that is a drag when oil prices fall, but if crude is stabilizing, GULF’s better than 77% combined weight to Qatar, UAE and Kuwait should prove beneficial. [Middle East Dividend ETF Changes for the Better]

Still, investors should be aware that geopolitical tensions in addition to oil prices can hamper these ETFs. For example, it was only recently that Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup became finalized and the country is believed to be home to financiers and sponsors of terrorism.

WisdomTree Middle East Dividend Fund