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Topic: ETFs

This ETF hands you the best of Italian firms


The Italian economy ranks among the biggest in the world but has offered investors very little growth for the past decade. High unemployment—especially among the country’s youth—as well as regional income disparities and high government debt are key problems.

Still the country is home to some exceptional companies, such as Ferrari (see page 106), that flourish despite the difficult overall economic situation.

Here is one ETF buy that provides you with exposure to the top public companies in Italy.

ISHARES MSCI ITALY ETF $26.98 (New York symbol EWI; TSI Network ETF Rating: Aggressive; Market cap: $233.4 million) offers investors exposure to Italy’s top publicly listed companies.

Financial firms account for 24.5% of its assets, while Utilities (21.2%), Energy (17.2%), Consumer Cyclicals (15.0%), Industrials (14.3%) and Telecommunications (3.5%) are other key segments.

The ETF holds a portfolio of 24 stocks; the top 10 make up a high 70% of its assets.

Those top stocks include Enel SpA (utilities; 18.1%), Eni SpA (energy, 11.3%), Intesa Sanpaolo (financials, 10.1%), UniCredit (financials, 6.5%), Assicurazioni Generali (financials, 4.6%), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (consumer cyclical; 4.2%), Ferrari NV (consumer cyclical, 4.0%), Atlantia (industrials, 3.9%), CNH Industrial (industrials, 3.7%) and Snam SpA (utilities, 3.7%).

The ETF started in 1996 and charges investors a moderate 0.47% MER. It has a mid-size asset base and offers good liquidity with an average of $29.7 million in units trading daily.

The fund pays a variable dividend twice a year, amounting to $1.23 for the past 12 months and a high yield of 4.6%.

The ETF gained 5.1% over the past year compared to a 2.3% gain for the MSCI World Equity Markets Index. However, over the past five years, the fund has gained 3.4% compared to a gain of 45.6% for the world markets index.

The Italian economy measured $1.9 trillion in 2018 and ranks as the 12th largest economy in the world. It is also the third-largest economy among the 28 member countries of the European Union.

The population count is 60.4 million, with a workforce of 25.9 million and a relatively high unemployment rate of 10.6%. Youth unemployment is very high at 34.8% and poverty rates among young people remain elevated.

Italy’s economy comprises a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less-developed, agricultural south, with a long legacy of unemployment and underdevelopment. Centrally located Rome, its its economic hub.

Regional disparities are large, with GDP per capita in the North amounting to $47,000 U.S. compared to $25,000 U.S. in the South.

The Italian economy is driven by the manufacture of high-quality consumer goods produced by small and medium-sized enterprises, many family-owned.

Italy also has a sizable underground, or black-market, economy, which by some estimates accounts for as much as 17% of GDP. These activities are most common within the agriculture, construction, and service industries.

The country ranks among the top 10 exporting nations in the world with trade in goods and services accounting for 31% of the overall gross domestic product.

The bulk of the country’s trade is with Europe; with Germany, France, Spain, and the U.K. ranking among its top export destinations.

The country’s main exports are precision machinery that represents 18% of total exports, and metals and metal products, worth 13%. Still, clothing and footwear, and motor vehicles, including luxury vehicles, motorcycles and scooters are also key exports. Mineral fuels, including oil, is the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up 25% in value from 2017 to 2018. That growth is thanks to increased international sales of refined petroleum oils.

The proposed exit of the U.K. from the European Union could have a negative impact on Italian exports and the economy, especially if no trade agreement can be reached before the exit, now scheduled for the end of October 2019. However, “Brexit” could very well take longer than that, with U.K. political parties divided over the terms of an exit.

The Italian economy contracted sharply during the global financial crisis in 2008 to 2009 and has struggled to regain positive momentum.

Over the past five years, gross domestic growth averaged less than 1% per year. In 2018, the economy grew by 0.7%, but is expected to grow by only 0.1% and 0.6% in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Italy runs a reasonable government budget deficit of 2.1% of GDP, although government expenditures equate to a very high 49% of that GDP.

Government debt remains a problem, amounting to 132% of GDP. That places Italy among the most indebted developed nations based on this measure.

Inflation is low at 0.5%; the European Central Bank deposit facility rate is currently at -0.4% while 10-year Italian government bond yields are at 0.8%. The rating agencies consider the country’s external debt to be low investment grade, with a negative outlook.

The currency is the Euro, which is now trading close to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in more than 10 years. Some observers argue that the Euro weakness, which is influenced by the monetary policy as set by the European Central Bank, unfairly benefits Italian exports.

When you invest in Italy, you’ll have to accept its risks: political volatility, high debt and more. But offsetting that is the investment appeal of its top firms.

For aggressive ETF investors who want exposure to leading Italian companies, the iShares MSCI Italian ETF is a buy.


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