As emerging markets equities have tumbled, South Korean shares have not been immune.
Over the past 90 days, the iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY) is off 13.6%, though that is 80 basis points better than the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEArca: EEM ) , an ETF that allocates 15% of its weight to South Korean stocks. Proving that exposure to South Korea has its advantages, or at the very least can help emerging markets ETFs be less bad, the Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEArca: VWO) has recently lagged its rival EEM due in part to the fact that VWO has no weight to South Korea.
South Korean stocks could be ready to shed their disappointing ways and deliver significant upside to investors in 2015. Market observers expect South Korea’s benchmark Kospi to rise 14% from Monday’s close of 2,183 in 2015, according to a Bloomberg survey of 11 strategists at firms including Barclays and Goldman Sachs.
Should that forecast prove accurate, the $4.2 billion EWY is likely to garner plenty of attention. With a beta of just 0.78 and a three-year standard deviation of 15.7%, EWY is a favorite among ETF strategists and money managers due to its volatile-by-comparison reputation relative to other single-country emerging markets ETFs. EWY is also one of the largest single-country ETFs of any stripe. [Steady Hands With South Korea ETFs]
However, investors have options among South Korea ETFs and if the Kospi does rebound in 2015, the Horizons Korea KOSPI 200 ETF (HKOR) could prove particularly useful. HKOR, which debuted in March, is the only U.S.-listed ETF that is a true proxy for South Korea’s benchmark KOPSI 200 Index. The KOSPI is one of the most widely used benchmarks in Asia.
With nearly half its combined weight devoted to the technology and consumer discretionary sectors, HKOR could be prime beneficiary of any positive dividend action by South Korean firms. Additionally, those sector weights give HKOR leverage to interest rates, which many market observers believe the Bank of Korea must reduce (and do so soon) to stem the tide of the strong won. [Ellen Would Love This New ETF]
Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor, two of the largest holdings in EWY and HKOR, are trading at rock bottom valuations. Samsung “trades at 7.4 times reported earnings while Hyundai Motor is valued at a multiple of 6.1. The MSCI All-Country World Index trades at 16.5 times,” according to Bloomberg.
The prospect of higher dividends from South Korean firms could also lift the Kospi, one of the lowest-yielding benchmarks in the developing world. The country’s payout ratio of 12% is piddly even compared to the U.S., where the S&P 500’s payout ratio is still well below its long-term average despite a spate of dividend increases last year and in 2014.