Emerging-market investors are out in force, and they know how to spot a deal in the ETF industry.Year to date, assets have flowed out of dominant iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ( EEM), while funds have flowed in to lower-cost Vanguard Emerging Markets ( VWO). The success of these funds has propelled the launch of new offerings as the popularity of emerging markets continues to grow. ETF giant iShares has seized upon investor interest to offer emerging-market ETFs in both the U.S. and abroad. iShares recently announced the launch of the MSCI Emerging Markets Eastern Europe Index Fund ( ESR) in the U.S. and its intention to launch the first ETF in Chile. According to Bloomberg, the Chilean ETF will add to its international emerging-markets roster, which includes three funds currently trading in Brazil. iShares' new offerings will not go unchallenged. Low-cost ETF provider Vanguard has fired a shot across the bow. In 2008, iShares' EEM had net cash outflows of $129 million while Vanguard's VWO's net cash flow was $2.8 billion. Year to date, VWO's net cash flow is nearly $4.2 billion while EEM's net cash flow is $1.8 billion. Emerging-markets ETFs have been standout performers in 2009, with the Market Vectors' Indonesia ( IDX) ETF jumping more than 33% in the three months ending Oct. 12, while iShares MSCI Turkey Investable Market Index ( TUR) rose more than 45%, and Market Vectors Russia ( RSX) rose nearly 73%. Year to date, TUR and RSX are up 102% and 137%, respectively. The release of new emerging-market ETFs began to heat up in the summer as a variety of new funds hit the market. The July 22 release of the Emerging Global Shares Dow Jones Emerging Markets Titans Composite Index Fund ( EEG) by newcomer Emerging Global Shares was followed by the Aug. 14 release of the Market Vectors Vietnam ( VNM) ETF. More recently, Emerging Global Shares released an Emerging Markets Financials Titans Index Fund ( EFN) on Sept. 16.
While successful emerging-markets ETFs offer good portfolio diversification, it is sector-heavy bets that often drive returns. TUR, with more than 50% allocated to financials, has seen an incredible bounce-back since the depths of the financial crisis. RSX is an energy-hefty number with energy firms as four out of the five top holdings. Sector weighting is just one important consideration when picking an emerging market ETF. Low priced funds like VWO are beneficial alternatives to entrenched competitors. Investors should keep an eye towards volume, however, as more liquid ETFs are easier to trade in the short-term. The upcoming Brazilian Olympics, Banco Santander ( BSBR) IPO, and renewed appetite for risk should help to keep investors' eyes on emerging markets. Recent returns are one reason that investors will add these funds, but many of these ETFs are beneficial for diversification over the long haul. "We launched our Indonesia fund in January and it was slow to gather assets at first," notes Adam Phillips at Van Eck Global/Market Vectors, "but it now has caught the attention of market participants. ETFs are the tool of choice in the emerging markets space."