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TheStreet Open House

iShares Debuts Its First Frontier Market Fund

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- By now most investors are well versed in the opportunities available investing in emerging markets but perhaps less familiar are the frontier markets which are generally less developed than emerging markets.

As emerging-market countries thrived during the previous decade, investors began to search for what could be next, which led to demand for frontier market investing.

The latest fund in the space is the iShares MSCI Frontier 100 Index Fund (FM). The objective of the fund is to be a broad-based proxy for the frontier markets as opposed to specialized access within the space.

At the sector level financials are by far the largest, at 57% of the fund, followed by telecom at 15% and energy at 9%. The sector weightings are typical of broad emerging-market funds and individual country funds for the simple reason that just about every country on the planet has banks, a big telephone company and a big oil company, and typically these companies have very large weightings on the local stock exchanges.

That FM has so much exposure to financials is not bad or overly risky in and of itself, but can become a problem in a portfolio of funds where all the funds have 40-50% in the one sector.

At the country level Kuwait has the largest weighting at 30%, followed by Qatar at 15% and the United Arab Emirates 12%. Nigeria has a 10% weight with a couple of other African countries having very small weightings.

There is also small exposure to interesting destinations like Kazakhstan, Estonia and Sri Lanka but the fund is dominated by Middle Eastern, exposure which adds up to roughly 62% of the fund. FM is a market cap-weighted fund, which accounts for the country and sector weightings. Kuwait has a much larger stock market than Mauritius, for example.

The heavy exposure to Middle Eastern countries relegates FM to being a "me, too" product as there are several funds already available offering similar exposure including the WisdomTree Middle East Dividend Fund (GULF) and the PowerShares MENA Frontier Countries Portfolio (PMNA).

The new iShares fund will charge a 0.79% expense ratio, which puts it in between the other two funds. GULF has a trailing dividend yield of 4.5% and PNMA has a trailing yield of 4.06%. While there was no yield information on the iShares Web site for FM yet, it is possible that it could have a similar yield as its competitors.

FM is probably best used in a diversified portfolio as a proxy for financial stocks, given the large exposure to that sector. The same applies to GULF and PMNA, which have 46% and 70%, respectivel,y in financial stocks.

The timing of the fund launch is interesting given the latest news from the region that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens was killed in Libya. Although the largest countries in the fund do not appear to be directly involved, the evolution of this story could be a drag on the fund's performance.

Given that there are similar funds that already exist, it would seem unclear as to why iShares would come third to market with an idea. FM does allow iShares to offer a more complete product line to clients and given their dominance in single country funds.

Perhaps FM will be a springboard to single-country frontier funds?

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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