Spring is in the air. And at this time of year, our minds turn to growth.
With first-quarter earnings season looming and the International Monetary Fund reiterating its forecast on growth rates, I dug through TheStreet.com Ratings' database to come up with five region-specific exchange-traded funds I think would make a good addition to almost any portfolio.
It is no surprise that three of the top five ETFs on the list would be from the Pacific region. First on the list is
iShares MSCI Singapore
, which recovered from the China scare during the early days of March to post a return of 10.5% for the first quarter.
As pointed out last week in
a ratings article on overseas investing, Singapore clearly has the best economic statistics, not only in the region but, arguably, in the world. For investors committed to the region and concerned about the state of the Chinese economy, Singapore offers the best option as a safe haven. iShares MSCI Singapore seeks to track the MSCI Singapore Free Index and invests half its assets in the banking and real estate sectors.
Next on the list is
iShares MSCI Malaysia
with a total return of 19% for the first quarter. The ETF consists primarily of those stocks traded on the Bursa Malaysia, formerly known as the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. Commercial banks and financials represent 29% of the ETF. The tourism industry is also well represented --11% of the fund is in hotels, restaurants and leisure.
Malaysia, where about 60% of the population is Muslim, is positioning itself as a center for Islamic capital markets, competing with Bahrain and other Persian Gulf states.
In recent comments, its prime minister noted that Islamic financial assets account for more than 12% of the country's total banking assets. Last week, the Malayan Banking Berhad, Malaysia's biggest bank, announced plans to raise $300 million in its first overseas debt sale that complies with Islamic law.
Third on the list is
iShares MSCI Australia
, with a return of 10.4% for the first quarter. Two-thirds of the fund is invested in banking and real estate with the balance mostly in metals and mining stocks.
Fourth on the list is
iShares MSCI Austria
, with a return of 5.3% for the first quarter. The fund invests in the MSCI Austria stocks on the Vienna Stock Exchange, Wiener Borse AG, with significant concentrations in banking (47%) and metals/mining (46%).
The fifth ETF pick is
iShares MSCI Spain
, with a return of 5.0% for the first quarter. This ETF tracks the MSCI Spain index that consists primarily of stocks that are traded on the Madrid Stock Exchange. Like most country ETFs, the lead sector is financial. Three bank stocks -- Banco Santander, Banco Bilbao and Banco Popular Espanol -- represent 36% of the portfolio.
Among the most significant contributors to recent performance are
, an electric utility, and
, a tobacco company, both subjects of European takeover consolidation attempts.
The Spanish ETF is also an indirect play on Latin American growth, because Spanish banks have significant presence in the Americas. For 2007, the IMF forecasts that Latin America will register another good year, with growth of 4.9% and an economic acceleration in Brazil.
These have been the winners in the first quarter, and it appears the momentum may continue into the second quarter. That's the good news.
But computer models can occasionally be wrong. Not all risks can be modeled.For example, the IMF noted that their forecasts could be affected by external risks such as volatile energy prices, further financial market tightening and risks from global imbalances.
Use this and TheStreet.com Ratings as a guide for your own homework and discussions with others about where the action in country funds may be in the near term.
Below is a list of the correlation coefficients for our top ETFs compared to the S&P 500 SPDR and the MSCI EAFE Index ETFs, which we use as proxies for the U.S. and International markets. Correlation measures how two securities move in relation to each other. A lower correlation coefficient normally translates into higher diversification of assets. The closer the valuation is to 1, the more similar the investments.
Rudy Martin is the director of research for TheStreet.com Ratings. In keeping with TSC's Investment Policy, employees of TheStreet.com Ratings with access to pre-publication ratings data must pre-clear any potential trade through the legal department, and are prohibited from trading any security that is the subject of an unpublished rating revision until the second business day after the rating is published.
In keeping with TSC's Investment Policy, employees of TheStreet.com Ratings with access to pre-publication ratings data must pre-clear any potential trade through the legal department, and are prohibited from trading any security that is the subject of an unpublished rating revision until the second business day after the rating is published.
While Martin cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.