Market Overview

The Best Non-China Asia ETFs For 2012


Avoiding China in an emerging markets ETF is easier said than done. There are nearly 230 exchange-traded products with some exposure to the world's largest country by population. Throw in roughly 100 Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges and it's not hard for American investors to get exposure to China.

In 2011, that was unwanted exposure. Maybe that will change in 2012 and there is a vocal chorus of pundits saying Chinese stocks are undervalued, but there are other ETF opportunities in Asia, several of which could leave China-specific ETFs in the dust this year.

Here are a few to consider.

iShares MSCI Philippines Invstable Market Index Fund (NYSE: EPHE) Indeed, we have have been bullish on EPHE for a while. With good reason. The facts are facts. The lone Philippines-specific ETF debuted in September 2010. Since then, the ETF is flat, which is far better than what can be said of the iShares FTSE China 25 Index Fund (NYSE: FXI) over the same time frame.

Remember, the Philippines has excellent GDP growth prospects without the pesky inflation problems of China or India.

iShares MSCI Thailand Investable Market Index Fund (NYSE: THD) The perfect example of a 2010 star that fell on hard times last year, the iShares MSCI Thailand Investable Market Index Fund has the makings of a 2012 rebound candidate. Well, if and it's a big "if" Thailand's political situation remains stable. THD put in a bottom just below $49 in October and the ETF has rebounded to trade near $61, so the bounce is underway. There's still upside to be had though. If emerging markets ETFs come back into vogue, THD could run to the mid-70s.

Global X FTSE ASEAN 40 ETF (NYSE: ASEA) Assume for a minute that you want exposure to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Well, there's an ETF for that and it's the Global X FTSE ASEAN 40 ETF. ASEA has almost $21 million in AUM, more than a lot of people probably realize the ETF has. ASEA's off to a good start this year having gained more than 3% and would be even more intriguing on a move above $15.50.

Vanguard MSCI Pacific ETF (NYSE: VPL) Consider the Vanguard MSCI Pacific ETF a more conservative play on Asia ex-China. The ETF does feature Hong Kong exposure, but the rest of its country allocation is devoted to Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore. Two reasons to like this ETF: It's home to almost 470 stocks. It has an expense ratio of just 0.14%. That is 91% lower than the average expense ratio of funds with similar holdings, according to the Vanguard Web site.

iShares MSCI Singapore Index Fund (NYSE: EWS) Although Singapore has a developed market way about it, this ETF could be every bit the rebound candidate that THD is, maybe more so. Singapore's is an export-driven economy and major trading partners include China, U.S., Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. That's fine, but the question marks surrounding EWS come in the form of Singapore's other trading partners.

Those would be Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Rep, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Rep, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Now you see why there some caution is needed regarding this ETF. However, it yields 4.3% and rests almost 21% off its 52-week high, so there could be some value here.

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