Investors Seek Shelter in Swiss ETFs - TheStreet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Switzerland and the Swiss franc remain economic bright spots amidst the otherwise troubled European continent.

ETF investors have the ability to access this nation and its currency using the

iShares MSCI Switzerland Index Fund

(EWL) - Get Report

and the

CurrencyShares Swiss Franc Trust

(FXF) - Get Report


Throughout the recent spell of economic turmoil, EWL has fallen along with other European nation-focused funds. However, comparing the fund's most recent three months performance to that of a broad eurozone fund such as the

iShares MSCI EMU Index

(EZU) - Get Report

, EWL's performance has been several percentage points better. One reason has been the investors exiting eurozone banks for the safety of Swizterland, which has lifted the Swiss franc.

iShares Switzerland provides investors with the opportunity to profit from the performance of the broad Swiss market by tracking a basket of some of the largest publicly traded companies based in the nation.

According to the fund's sector breakdown, EWL is a relatively defensive fund, with health care and consumer staples firms representing the two largest slices of the fund's total portfolio. Together, these two sectors account for over 50% of its total assets.

In total, EWL's index consists of 38 individual holdings. However, the fund is particularly heavily weighted towards its top positions which include


(NSRGY) - Get Report

, Roche, and


(NVS) - Get Report

. Together, these three firms represent 45% of the fund's total index.

Given the fund's heavy exposure to staples and health care, it is evident that the success of EWL hinges on the state of Switzerland and the rest of the globe's consumer sector.

In recent weeks, however, one of the crucial factors behind the Switzerland's ability to weather the current economic headwinds facing the rest of Europe has been the strength from its currency, the Swiss Franc.

Although the nation borders EU giants France, Germany and Italy, Switzerland remains independent from the European Monetary Union and continues to rely on the Swiss franc as its currency.

In recent months, the euro has struggled as members of the currency bloc continue to battle against their respective looming debt issues. Seeing the euro's decline against the franc as a threat to its economy and exports, the Swiss National Bank had been taking dramatic action. Up until recently, the bank had been selling francs to buy euros in hopes of providing some support for the troubled currency.

Initially, the SNB was able to slow and even temporarily reverse the appreciation of the franc against the euro. However, the market eventually overwhelmed their efforts and, in mid June, the bank put an end to its policy, thereby giving the all-clear for the franc to once again climb higher against the euro.

And climb higher it has. As of the start of the week, the franc has reached record highs against the euro Since the euro has rallied against the U.S. dollar in the past couple of weeks, the move against the U.S. dollar was even more impressive. Since the first week of June, FXF has gained nearly 7%, about equal to the return of EWL.

The franc's rise does not appear to be threatening the strength of the nation's markets. On Monday, central bankers offered comforting words about the nation's lack of deflationary risk despite the strengthening currency.

The debt issues facing much of the European Union has made finding strong and stable international ETF plays a tricky and risky task. For now, given its currency's strength and the defensive nature of its portfolio, the Swiss ETF and the Swiss franc ETF are two funds investors may want to keep on the radar.

-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.


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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management was not long any of the equities mentioned.

Don Dion is president and founder of

Dion Money Management

, 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.