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Israel ETF Delivers Big Returns

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When you think of strong economies, China and India probably come to mind.

But how about Israel?

This nation's economy fared better during the global recession than most other developed countries. Its GDP decreased by only 0.3% in 2009, compared with a drop of 2.4% in the U.S. and a decline of 4.0% in the European Union.

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The iShares MSCI Israel Capped Investable Market Index Fund (EIS) is the way for investors to play Israel's robust economy.

Israel emerged relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis because of strict lending standards that helped it avoid much of the subprime mortgage issues that confronted other countries.

Israelis also have a higher saving rate than most Americans. Lower consumer debt levels helped the country avoid a drop in personal consumption when the worldwide decrease in economic activity constrained personal incomes.

There are also multiple signals that Israel's economy is on track to continue recovering at a faster pace than its Western peers.

For one, Israel's housing market is not as distressed as those in other parts of the world. Home prices increased in value in the fourth quarter of 2009 from a year earlier, whereas in most countries, they were still dropping or rising anemically.

Also, consumer confidence has risen to a 10-year high through February, signaling that domestic consumption will strengthen.

Israel's economy is also very involved in exports, which have continued to increase even as the nation's currency rose against the dollar over much of the past year. Its export market is highly developed, featuring internationally competitive companies in the high-technology and biotech sectors.

Despite the developed nature of Israel's economy, EIS has been able to almost keep pace with or outperform the ETFs that track hot emerging economies such as China and India. In 2009, EIS rose 81.2%, while WisdomTree India Earnings (EPI) went up 95.1% and the iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index (FXI) gained 47.3%.

EIS allocates the most net assets to biotechnology company Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA), which accounts for 24% of the ETF. Another large holding is Checkpoint Software Technologies (CHKP), an information technology security company, which accounts for 7.5% of the fund.

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