U.S. Markets closed

Thailand ETF Again Shrugs Off Political Fears


The iShares MSCI Thailand Capped ETF (THD) is about two months away from celebrating its seventh anniversary and over those seven years, the lone Thailand-specific ETF has endured several bouts of political volatility.

Another one of those bouts could be coming after the Thai parliament today voted to impeach former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and moved forward with criminal charges against Shinawatra for her role in a rice price-fixing scandal. She could face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty on the criminal charges.

THD is taking the news with aplomb. The ETF is up more than half a percent Friday, but if critics want to nitpick, it should be acknowledged that volume is already nearly 10% above the daily average. Heading into 2015, institutional investors were overweight Thai equities, a position that has been rewarded, at least as far as THD is concerned.

Entering Friday, the Thailand ETF was up 5.2% to start the year, the second-best performance among the major single-country ETFs tracking Southeast Asian economies. Only the iShares MSCI Philippines ETF (EPHE) has been better this year. [A Roaring Asian Tiger ETF]

Thailand’s SET Index “is among Asia’s best performers in 2015. The benchmark is up 2.65% so far this year, building on a 15.3% gain in 2014. Bond prices have rallied and the currency is close to its strongest since October, remaining among the most resilient in Asia against a rising U.S. dollar,” reports Jake Watts for the Wall Street Journal.

For now, Thai streets are calm in the aftermath of the Shinawatra news, which is a critical factor for THD’s near-term outlook given the popularity she and her family enjoy in Thailand. That popularity runs so deep that Thai voters elected Yingluck even after her brother Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

While some observers may believe Thailand is still rife with political volatility, especially after the military took control in May, Thailand’s economy and incomes have historically expanded faster and remained more stable under the three times the military led government, compared to the nine civilian ones. [Thailand Stocks, ETF Flourish Under Military Rule]

Still, there are reasons to be cautious with THD. In Thailand, one moment of calm can rapidly give way to political volatility. Additionally, Thai stocks are pricy relative to the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. The SET trades at 13.5 times forward earnings compared to 10.8 times on the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

As is the case in the Philippines, lower oil prices are expected to help Thailand, which also imports the bulk of its energy consumption. Standard Chartered Bank is bold enough to predict low oil prices will help Thailand achieve 6% GDP growth this year, well above the estimate of 4% held by most analysts.

iShares MSCI Thailand Capped ETF