With the astronomical gains in Russian-based equities since 2001, it's no surprise investors have been clamoring for an exchange-traded fund that can capture these profits. Now they can. Asset manager Van Eck Global launched its Market Vectors-Russia ETF ( RSX) on the New York Stock Exchange this week. It's the first U.S.-listed ETF that gives investors exposure to a broad spectrum of Russian companies. This is Van Eck's fourth ETF but its first to track international equities and its first on the NYSE. The fund charges an
expense ratio of 0.69%. ETF investors seeking exposure to Russia have been limited to the Claymore BRIC ( EEB). However, rather than being focused on Russia, this fund also tracks companies from Brazil, India and China. The new ETF seeks to replicate, before fees and expenses, the performance of the DAXglobal Russia+ Index, a basket created by the Deutsche Bourse of the 30 most heavily traded Russian companies. Five of the stocks list in the U.S. as American depositary receipts (ADRs), 19 trade in London as global depositary Receipts (GDRs) and six trade on Russia's Micex Exchange. But is now the best time to be launching a Russian ETF? Tom Lydon, editor of ETF Trends, an independent Web site based in Newport Beach, Calif., that tracks the ETF industry, doesn't think so. "I think it's great that it came out," says Lydon. "But right now, Russia isn't performing as well as some other European markets."
Lydon, who is also an asset manager, says potentially aggressive ETFs are not for buy-and-hold investors. "You can't just buy and forget about these," he says. "You have to set stop losses and constantly be willing to pull the trigger if the sentiment goes against you." Having received approval for extended trading privileges, Van Eck's Russia ETF will trade on the NYSE Arca electronic marketplace between the hours of 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. The DAXglobal Russia+ Index went live only in March, but according to hypothetical back-tested data, the index would have returned a combined total of about 152.52% and 580.90% for the three-year and five-year periods, respectively. Comprising mostly large-cap stocks, the index has 40.6% in the oil and gas sector, 17.6% in telecommunications and 12% in iron and steel. Electric utilities, mining and other sectors make up the rest of the index. The index includes energy companies Lukoil, Gazprom and Surgutneftgaz, and utility giant United Energy Systems. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Russia posted eight straight years of economic growth, averaging 6.7% since the 1998 financial crisis. Van Eck says Russia has more proven "natural gas reserves than any other country and is among the top 10 countries in proven oil reserves. It's also the largest exporter of natural gas and is the world's second-largest crude oil exporter after Saudi Arabia."
While Russia has overcome most of the political instability and economic uncertainty of the 1990s, there are still sizable risks in this market. Political and corporate reforms still have a long way to go, and corruption and a lack of corporate transparency contribute to the market's inherent volatility. There have also been concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin rolling back democracy in the country, as well as stepping up anti-American rhetoric that harkens back to the Cold War. But others remain positive on the territory. "Currency risk is nil. The ruble is impregnable," says John Connor, portfolio manager of the ( TMRFX) Third Millennium Russia Fund (TMRFX). "Political risk is mostly people's perceptions. I think there is little risk of any more companies becoming nationalized. However, it's heavily weighted to oil, and right now that is not a top-performing sector. It's not that they aren't undervalued based on fundamentals, but the market isn't interested in oil stocks right now. So, if oil is fully valued, you could be buying a fully valued fund."