Make Money on 'Innocent Bystander' ETFs

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Bank failures yet to come, the debate over a single financial regulator and Bank of America ( BAC) Chief Executive Ken Lewis' impending departure shows the U.S. financial industry is still a long way from firm footing. Financial stocks all over the world declined almost as much as those in America but without the same fundamental catastrophes.

Many foreign banks, which refrained from poor lending practices and excessive leverage, may be smart targets for investors. Singapore, an innocent bystander on the world stage, is one place to look. While foreign companies can be difficult to access (most have American depositary receipts that trade on U.S. pink sheets), the iShares MSCI Singapore Index Fund ( EWS) provides a huge exposure to financial shares, at 49%.

The largest holding in the exchange-traded fund is SingTel, the dominant phone company, at 14% of the fund. After that comes many financial stocks: DBS Group Holdings ( DBSDY), with 12%; United Overseas Bank ( UOVEY), 11%; Overseas-Chinese Banking Corp. ( OVCHF), 11%; a couple of real estate investment trusts and Singapore Exchange Ltd. ( SPXCF), 4%. iShares Singapore yields a hefty 3.67%.

The ETF is essentially a proxy for financial stocks, which are still down quite a bit from their highs.

Many specialized ETFs are proxies. Other examples include the iShares All Peru Capped Index Fund ( EPU), with 66% materials, and the SPDR FTSE/Macquarie Global Infrastructure 100 ETF ( GII) which has 89% utilities.

Singapore has run budget and current-account surpluses for years, which allowed it to help its economy. Still, some economists are calling for a 5% contraction in gross domestic product this year. Singapore is trying to emerge from its recession with spending policies that don't raise many concerns about too much debt, monetizing that debt or saddling future generations with a burden than can never be paid off.

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