NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Although the headlines about debt in Europe earlier this year have abated, the problems gripping some euro-zone member countries still exist.
This means that investors interested in Europe should continue to avoid ETFs that provide exposure to the entire region.
Instead, investors looking for exposure to the European continent should seek out country-specific funds that represent Europe's strongest nations.
Two euro-zone countries worth a look are Germany, which is represented by
iShares MSCI Germany Index Fund
; and the Netherlands, represented by the
iShares MSCI Netherlands Investable Market Index Fund
. As the euro was battered down against the U.S. dollar and other major world currencies earlier this year, the German economy actually benefited as its export sector became even more competitive. Quality German goods were suddenly cheaper for other countries around the world, as exports surged in particular to China.
Germany, whose government has spent frugally in comparison to some of its neighbors, is also not at risk of experiencing the same sort of debt issues that still threaten the economies of Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and of course, Greece.
The result is that EWG will weather the challenges facing economic recovery around the world better than some of its peer European country-specific ETFs.
When the euro crisis was starting to pick up steam, the markets of the Netherlands were found to be another region of stability within the euro-bloc. Ranking in as the second largest euro region exporter behind only Germany, the Netherlands has also benefited from the weakened euro. In July, Dutch exports increased 13% year over year.
With close to 30% of its portfolio dedicated to consumer staples and 20% dedicated to industrials and financials each, EWN's index provides both defense against economic turmoil and upside potential for when the storm passes. In the past month period, the fund has gained 5%.
Outside of the euro-zone, another promising case in Europe is Switzerland, which is represented by
iShares MSCI Switzerland Index Fund
. EWL is a leader among European country-specific ETFs in the past month with a gain of about 6%.
Investors looking at Switzerland can gain an advantage since the country has its own currency and its markets are less affected by euro fluctuations. Although the country is not completely detached from the success or failure of the rest of Europe, its separate currency does give it another advantage in that it has much more independence in crafting economic policy.
EWL is well-suited to succeed over rough seas that may lie ahead. Although financials do receive a 21% allocation in the fund, consumer staples, and health care receive larger allocations of 24% and 29%, respectively. Both these industries are considered safe-haven sectors, making EWL one of the sturdier plays amongst European country-specific ETFs.
The United Kingdom is also worth a look. The UK has done better than the average euro-zone economy in the second quarter of 2010, and investors can bet on its markets with
iShares MSCI United Kingdom Index Fund
. The country, like Switzerland also maintains its own independent currency, giving it more independence when it comes to economic policy.
EWU may also benefit from the new government established after general elections earlier this year. The newly elected appear committed to cutting government spending and reeling in debt.
Although debates still exist as to whether these sorts of stringency measures will help national economies in the long-run, right now markets seem to appreciate the proactive nature of those governments that are working to avoid situations like the one in Greece.
EWG, EWN, EWL and EWU provide investors with four different routes to follow for a conservative play on economic recovery in Europe. As I've explained before, although the storms centered on this region of the globe are showing signs of dissipating, risk still exists. Therefore, investors holding any European focused ETF should keep their positions small and maintain a close watch.
-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.
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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management was not long on any funds mentioned.
Don Dion is president and founder of
, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.
Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.