Building With BRICS ETFs In the Second Half
Here's a harsh byproduct regarding the behavior of global equity markets since April: Emerging markets stocks and ETFs have been badly bruised as concerns about the future of the Euro Zone have escalated. While traders and investors may be adjusting the fact that it's only a matter of months before Greece departs the Euro Zone and that Spain may not be far behind, that adjustment in attitude has not meant shelter from the storm for emerging markets fare.
Of course, major emerging markets such as the BRICS quintet – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have their own specific problems that serve as the cherry atop a toxic sundae facing investors that are considering international positions.
Using the five major BRICS ETFs as our benchmarks, those being the iShares MSCI Brazil Index Fund (NYSE: EWZ), the Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSE: RSX), the WisdomTree India Earnings ETF (NYSE: EPI), the iShares FTSE China 25 Index Fund (NYSE: FXI) and the iShares MSCI South Africa Index Fund (NYSE: EZA), we find nothing but brutal performances in the past month.
For those keeping score at home, EZA is the best performer of the major BRICS ETFs since April 23 and that's saying nothing because the fund is down almost 8%. EWZ and RSX are down more than twice that amount. With a loss of nearly 14% over that time, EPI is no peach either and FXI isn't exactly inviting with a drop of 11.5%.
With the halfway point of 2012 rapidly approaching, let's have a look at what the second half of 2012 might have in store for these ETFs and in what order investors should prefer BRICs ETFs.
iShares FTSE China 25 Index Fund Putting China atop this list wasn't the toughest of calls for a couple of reasons. First, Chinese policymakers have shown a willingness to act in an effort to skirt a hard landing. The recent lowering of bank reserve requirements says as much. Second, China appears intent on at least trying to steer its massive economy toward more domestic consumption.
Then there valuation. FXI's P/E ratio is less than 13. That compares to over 16 for the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (NYSE: EEM) and over 15 for EWZ. Admittedly, the risk here is that Chinese equities have appeared cheap for some time and few investors appear to be taking the bait.
Market Vectors Russia ETF The further down the list we go, the trickier the calls become and that's the case right here with Russia and RSX. There are two catalysts that have the potential to drive RSX higher in the near-term. Again, valuation enters the equation as Russian stocks are trading at a steep discount to the broader emeging markets universe. They're even cheaper on a P/E basis than Chinese equities.
Second, oil prices cannot be ignored and they explain the recent drubbing RSX and other Russia funds have endured. The time to buy RSX might be right now as Russia's benchmark Micex Index could jump 10% this week if Brent crude flirts with $119 per barrel, Bloomberg reported, citing an HSBC research note.
iShares MSCI Brazil Index Fund This is a tepid endorsement here in the third spot because it's going to take a lot of moving parts to get EWZ headed in the right direction again. Clearly, Petrobras (NYSE: PBR) needs to trade well above $20 to have a meaningful impact on EWZ. Even that doesn't account for a less than desirable political environment in South America's largest economy.
Inflation is still an issue and there are growing concerns about domestic growth this year. As a one-day anecdotal example, most emerging markets ETFs are higher on Monday, but the Market Vectors Brazil Small-Cap ETF (NYSE: BRF) is lower once again, perhaps a sign investors still aren't convinced Brazilian equities are poised to rally.
iShares MSCI South Africa Index Fund (NYSE: EZA) Last week was the worst in six months for South African equities. Given that EZA hasn't fallen as much as the other funds mentioned yet has a P/E of 17.6, it can be argued that it's only a matter of time before the ETF falls victim to elevated selling pressure.
The chart is a mess as EZA is trading below its 50- and 200-day moving averages, and another 8%-10% could easily be shave off this fund before it finds material support. The country is arguably politically volatile and unemployment is almost 24%, two factors that cannot be ignored.
WisdomTree India Earnings ETF A host of catalysts indicate EPI and its India ETF brethren could be in for more declines. Today, Morgan Stanley slashed its 2012 India GDP growth forecast to 6.3% from 6.9% and its forecast for next year to 6.8% from 7.5%. The bank cited a high national deficits and slowing private investment, among other factors.
As we reported last month, chances are decent India could lose its already tenuous investment grade status. With that, the country could face expulsion from BRICS and weakening rupee is raising the cost of imports. A couple more bad trading days could take EPI down to its 52-week low. Simply put, India was an easy choice for the last spot on this list.
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