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Time for South Korea ETFs to Join the Party


With Asian bourses from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Manila surging, South Korean stocks, among the emerging world’s least volatile, are getting in on the act.

Year-to-date, the iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY) is up 10%, but the bulk of that gain has been accrued over the past month as EWY has surged 9.4%. More upside for South Korean stocks and the related ETFs could be on the way after the benchmark Kospi index broke through 2,100 for the first time in almost four years during Thursday’s Asian session.

The Kospi has surged 11% this year, helping the Horizons Korea KOSPI 200 ETF (HKOR) to a comparable gain. 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. [Put South Korea ETFs on 2015 Lists]

This year’s bullishness in South Korean stocks could force analysts to upwardly revise their 2015 Kospi targets. At the end of 2014, market observers expected South Korea’s benchmark Kospi to rise 14%, according to a Bloomberg survey of 11 strategists at firms including Barclays and Goldman Sachs. [Alluring Asia ETFs for 2015]

Foreign investors are taking notice and are plowing money into stocks in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

“Shinhan BNP Paribas Asset Management Co. and Midas International Asset Management Ltd., which oversee a combined $48 billion, say the Kospi’s milestone will herald further gains after foreign investors bought a net $4.3 billion of Korean shares this year. Even after its rally, the gauge is valued at a 32 percent discount versus MSCI’s global index,” reports Seonjin Cha for Bloomberg.

However, investors have pulled over $292 million from EWY even as the ETF has surged. Although those inflows to South Korean stocks have recently supported the won, some market observers believe the Bank of Korea can cut interest rates again to defend the country’s exporters. BOK pared rates to a record low of 1.75% last month. [Rate Cut Doesn't Stir South Korea ETFs]

The Deutsche X-trackers MSCI South Korea Hedged Equity ETF (DBKO) and the WisdomTree Korea Hedged Equity Fund (DXKW) are up an average of 9.6% this year.

Investors are starting to embrace non-Japan currency hedged single-country ETFs, though those affections have been limited to Germany funds, including products from Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management and WisdomTree.

For example, DBKO had just over $64 million in assets under management the day BOK cut rates, but the ETF’s AUM tally has doubled in just over a month. The ETF is now home to nearly $127 million in assets of which $116.3 million has flowed into the fund this year.

Horizons Korea KOSPI 200 ETF