Topic: ETFs

2 ETFs offer international exposure, low MERs

Two international ETFs Mutual funds

We think conservative investors can hold up to 10% of their portfolios in foreign stocks. Here’s a look at two international ETFs that offer very low management fees and access to tax-efficient portfolios of high-quality stocks.

ISHARES MSCI SOUTH KOREA INDEX FUND (New York symbol EWY; buy or sell through brokers) aims to track the MSCI Korea Index. The ETF’s top holdings are Samsung Electronics, 21.2%; Hyundai Motor, 3.7%; SK Hynix Semiconductor, 2.9%; Hyundai Mobis (auto parts), 2.8%; Shinhan Financial, 2.7%; Naver (Internet), 2.6%; Korea Electric Power, 2.5%; LG Chemicals, 2.3%; Posco (steel), 2.2%; Kia Motors, 2.0%; AmorePacific Corp. (cosmetics), 2.0%; KT&G Corp. (tobacco), 1.9%; KB Financial, 1.9%; and Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance, 1.7%.

The iShares MSCI South Korea Index Fund was launched on May 9, 2000. Its expense ratio is 0.64%.

South Korea has Asia’s fourth-largest economy, after China, Japan and India. It is reliant on exports, but shipments to the U.S. are rebounding. That’s offsetting weak shipments to China.

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The steady rise of South Korea’s currency, the won, hurt its economy in 2012 and 2013 by making its goods more expensive for foreign buyers. But South Korea cut interest rates to record lows, bringing the won down to five-year lows against the U.S. dollar. The move has boosted exports.

In the longer term, the country faces an aging population, with a birth rate of 1.2 children per woman—the lowest in the developed world.

ETFs: Improving economies boost ETF

The country ships about 25% of its exports to China, and weak demand there will hurt manufacturers. However, the U.S., Europe and Japan together account for a further 25% of exports. An improving outlook for them should offset the weakness in China.

South Korea’s economy will likely grow by 3.9% in 2016, and a big stimulus program and continued low oil prices could push that figure higher; South Korea imports almost all of its oil, bringing in the fifth-largest amount in the world, after Germany.

iShares MSCI South Korea Index Fund is a buy for aggressive investors.

ISHARES MSCI GERMANY FUND (New York symbol EWG; buy or sell through brokers) tracks the stocks in the MSCI Germany Index.

This index aims to replicate 85% of the market capitalization of the German stock market. The remaining 15% is unavailable for investment, partly due to limitations on foreign ownership.

The ETF’s top holdings are Bayer (diversified chemicals), 8.8%; SAP (software), 7.5%; Siemens (engineering conglomerate), 7.4%; Allianz (insurance), 6.8%; Daimler (automobiles), 7.3%; BASF (chemicals), 6.1%; Deutsche Telekom, 5.4%; Munich Reinsurance, 3.3%; BMW AG, 2.7%; Linde AG (industrial gases), 2.6%; Fresenius (health care), 2.6%; Deutsche Bank AG, 2.4%; and Deutsche Post AG, 2.3%.

The ETF began trading on March 12, 1996. Its expense ratio is 0.48%.

Weak European markets slowed Germany’s growth last year, while ongoing sanctions against Russia continue to hurt German firms that have a significant number of Russian customers. However, the low euro remains a big plus for exports, and the long-term outlook for the German economy is sound.

Recommendation in Canadian Wealth Advisor: BUY

For our report on another category of ETFs, read Precious metal ETFs to hold.

For our view on how to judge whether an ETF is right for you, read When an ETF investment is the right choice.


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