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Touring Big-Cap Europe

Want to add some foreign exposure to your portfolio? How about big-cap Europe? Want to reduce volatility and add some yield to your portfolio? How about big-cap Europe? Want exciting growth? Well, you may need to look elsewhere, but this part of the market has utility in the context of a diversified portfolio.

There are a lot of ETFs now that invest in big-cap Europe. These funds, even the older ones, don't get much attention, probably because so many investors don't bother to look beyond the iShares MSCI EAFE Index Fund (EFA) for foreign exposure.

As you can see (on the chart below) and would expect, all of these funds correlate closely for a short-time period, but there are some structural differences that could matter longer term. The two biggest similarities of all these funds is that they are heavily invested in the financial sector and all have the largest country weight in the U.K.

The BLDRs Europe 100 ADR Index Fund (ADRU) is a remarkably small fund, for being four years old, with only $35 million in assets. It owns the 100 stocks that make up the Bank of New York Europe 100 ADR Index. It would be easy to read through that name without noticing something I think is important, which is that it owns only ADRs.

The other funds are not limited to ADRs, and while most of the holdings in all of these funds do have ADRs, the others are not restricted. It is possible that this restriction contributed to the relative lag. Some numbers: ADRU yields 2.04%, has a beta of 0.95, a standard deviation of 9.49 and has a 0.70 correlation to the S&P 500 (all of the data points in this article come from ).

One of the bigger funds in the space is the iShares S&P Europe 350 Index Fund (IEV). It is obviously very broad based. Like all of these funds, the U.K. is the largest country and the financial sector is by far the largest. BP (BP) and HSBC (HBC) are the two largest holdings. The fund is very unremarkable except that it has been the best performing of the bunch since the listing of the two WisdomTree funds. IEV only yields 1.83%, has a beta of 0.94, a standard deviation of 9.03 and a 0.72 correlation to the S&P 500.

The Vanguard European ETF (VGK) has 621 holdings and the lowest expense ratio, 0.18%. Despite having almost twice as many holdings as IEV, the two funds' top tens, besides having nine out of ten in common, have roughly the same weight. The way this works out, the fund has over 400 out of 621 holdings with less than 0.10% weight in the fund, which means they offer very little to the fund's returns.

The fund is doing very well, but I see no big advantage by owning more stocks than IEV. The numbers, not surprisingly, are very similar to IEV's too; it yields 2.06%, a beta of 0.92, a standard deviation of 9.04 and a correlation of 0.71 to the S&P 500.

Another ETF with surprisingly few assets is the four-year-old streetTracks Dow Jones Stoxx 50 (FEU). This fund is much more concentrated than the others with only 50 holdings; the biggest of the European big stocks. The average weighted market cap is $109 billion. The top two holdings, again BP and HSBC, account for 10% of the fund.

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