If you are unfamiliar with the acronym it stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations which includes 10 countries although only Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines are captured in the fund. The fund only having five countries is probably a function of markets like Cambodia and Laos being too small.
By country, the largest holdings in the fund are from Singapore at 41%, followed by Malaysia, 33%; Indonesia, 15%; Thailand, 10%; and peculiarly 0.61% in the Philippines with a position in Philippine Long Distance. The fund is market-cap weighted with stakes in the 40 largest stocks in the region. Calling it the ASEAN 39 ETF would be odd, but this really is just a four-country fund, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
At the sector level the fund allocates 43% to financials, 15% to telecom and 15% to industrials. The largest holdings are targeted at 4% to 5% each and include mostly Singaporean banks like DBS Group Holdings and Oversea Chinese Banking along with Singapore Telecom.
While there is no yield information available at the Global X Website the
iShares MSCI Singapore Index Fund
has yielded over 3% and the
iShares MSCI Malaysia Index Fund
has yielded over 2.5%. The yield for ASEA should also be in that range.
The countries in the fund are all available as individual country ETFs, so the value here would be not having to be correct about one country, accessing a fundamentally healthy slice of Asia while avoiding Japan and China which for the time being have more risk factors. Note "for the time being" as these countries were ground zero for the Asian Contagion in 1998 and Thailand has had some political issues lately that could linger even though this is now not front page news.
Part of the attraction to this region is that it came through the financial crisis fundamentally unscathed and is today on firmer economic ground than much of the world. While that is clearly the case this did not prevent these markets from going down just as much as the
during the worst of the crisis.
While the S&P 500 fell 55% at its worst, the iShares Singapore ETF fell 63% and the iShares Malaysia ETF fell 42%. There were many complaints about correlations going to one and these markets were a prime example.
Owning this fund requires keeping tabs on developments in the region and not letting yourself get blindsided by a large decline should there be another leg to the global financial crisis or if the region has problems of its own which is entirely possible.
Keep in mind that recently the MENA region, MENA standing for Middle East and North Africa, was the new, safe must-own region as evidenced by the proliferation of funds for the region. This region started unraveling a couple of years ago with Dubai's financial problems right up through regime change today. Over a period of year there is visibility for these countries to outperform the U.S. market but this will not be a shelter in the storm in the face of the next global decline.
At the time of publication, Nusbaum held no positions in the funds mentioned.
Roger Nusbaum is a portfolio manager with Your Source Financial of Phoenix, and the author of Random Roger's Big Picture Blog. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Nusbaum appreciates your feedback;
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