Market Overview

More Stealthy Japan ETFs

More Stealthy Japan ETFs

Japan's Nikkei 225 surged 3.55 percent in Tuesday's Asian session, crossing the 14,000 mark for the first time in nearly five years. The Topix, the Japanese index that U.S. investors can get exposure to through the iShares S&P/TOPIX 150 Index Fund (NYSE: ITF), has moved back to levels not seen since the darkest days of the financial crisis.

The major Japan ETFs, namely the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (NYSE: DXJ) and the iShares MSCI Japan Index Fund (NYSE: EWJ), are trading modestly higher Tuesday. So is ITF, which has climbed over 15 percent in the past three months.

With Japanese equities surging, ITF is just one ETF that reminds investors there are some other compelling Japan funds beyond the most familiar names. Some of the following ETFs are not Japan-specific plays so they can be paired with an ETF such as DXJ by investors looking to ratchet up their Japan exposure.

iShares FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Developed Asia Index Fund (NASDAQ: IFAS)
Among developed markets, Japan's dividend reputation pales in comparison to the U.S. and others, but the iShares FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Developed Asia Index Fund offers an alluring combination of 39.6 percent exposure to the land of the rising sun and a trailing 12-month yield of 5.47 percent, according to iShares data.

As its name implies, IFAS is heavily tilted toward Asia, but that does not mean significant emerging markets exposure. In addition to Japan, the ETF's largest country allocation, Hong Kong and Australia combine for almost 45 percent of the fund's weight. At the sub-sector level, IFAS is focused primarily on property development and holding firms (56.5 percent) and retail REITs (19.8 percent).

IFAS does not offer a currency hedge, but the impact soaring Japanese stocks are having on the ETF is palpable. The $45.7 million ETF has gained 15.4 percent in the past 90 days. IFAS charges 0.48 percent per year and is home to 81 stocks.

SPDR Russell/Nomura PRIME Japan ETF (NYSE: JPP)
The aforementioned DXJ and EWJ rightfully dominate the conversation about Japan ETFs with a large-cap focus, but the SPDR Russell/Nomura PRIME Japan ETF is worthy of consideration for those looking for a broad play on Japanese stocks. JPP tracks the Russell/Nomura PRIME Index, a float-adjusted cap-weighted index comprised of 1,000 stocks. JPP does not hold all of those stocks as its current roster is comprised of 388 holdings.

The ETF offers ample exposure to a recovery in Japanese exports with significant allocations to export-dependent sectors. Industrials, consumer discretionary and technology combine for over half of JPP's weight. Although JPP is not a hedged currency ETF, the fund has benefited from the tumbling yen, gaining more than 32 percent in the past six months.

The biggest knock on JPP is $25.9 million in assets, a small sum for an ETF that is more than six years old. JPP has an annual expense ratio of 0.5 percent and it is not that volatile. JPP's beta against the S&P 500 is just 0.03, according to State Street data.

PowerShares BLDRS Asia 50 ADR Index Fund (NASDAQ: ADRA)
Like IFAS, the PowerShares BLDRS Asia 50 ADR Index Fund is a multi-country Asia-Pacific fund. And like the iShares REIT offering, ADRA offers plenty of Japan exposure, 48.47 percent to be exact. Six Japanese stocks are found among ADRDA's top-10 holdings, including Toyota, which is the ETF's largest holding with a weight of 12.8 percent. That means Toyota's footprint in ADRA is 460 basis points larger than the fund's second-largest holding, BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP).

ADRA's second-largest country weight is Australia at almost 16.4 percent. With Japan and Australia combining for nearly two-thirds of ADRA's weight, it would be logical to assume this ETF has been a star performer this year. With a year to date gain of 5.2 percent, ADRA has been solid though not spectacular.

The drag on ADRA this year has been its exposure to large, laggard emerging markets. China, Taiwan, South Korea and India combine for 31.5 percent of the fund's weight. If two or three of those markets can rebound and if Japan can keep soaring, ADRA would be an attractive Asian play.

First Trust Japan AlphaDEX Fund (NYSE: FJP)
Starting in the second quarter of 2011, First Trust rolled out an expansive suite of international ETFs based on the unique AlphaDEX methodology that has proven popular and successful with the firm's U.S. sector funds.

While the international AlphaDEX ETFs have not yet been prodigious gatherers of assets, many have outperformed their more established rivals. For example, the First Trust South Korea AlphaDEX Fund (NYSE: FKO) has outperformed the largest South Korea ETF this year.

Regarding the First Trust Japan AlphaDEX Fund, the ETF has lagged DXJ and EWJ, but that is more a complement to those ETFs than a knock on the First Trust offering. Unheralded FJP has surged 21.5 percent over the past six months and 17.8 percent year-to-date.

Investors expecting an ETF heavy on the usual suspect of Japanese industry will not find that with FJP. None of FJP's 100 holdings receives a weight north of 2.6 percent, but the good news is the ETF offers plenty of export exposure with discretionary and industrial names combining for over 55 percent of the fund's weight.

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