Two ETFs, Two Routes to China's Highways

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If you invest in emerging markets, you know that one of the catalysts for growth is the modernization of infrastructure in China, India and Africa. Because of this dynamic, there are exchange-traded funds that target emerging-market infrastructure.

Despite their similar names, the iShares S&P Emerging Markets Infrastructure Index Fund ( EMIF) and the PowerShares Emerging Markets Infrastructure Portfolio ( PXR) are quite different.

The iShares fund is much closer to what its name implies. It owns Chinese toll-road stocks, Brazilian utilities and even a phone stock listed in Prague. The PowerShares fund targets the companies that are building and updating the roads and utilities, including shares of companies in developing nations and those of companies based in the U.S., Switzerland and France that do business in emerging markets.

The iShares fund makes larger bets at the county level, allocating 29% to China and 27% to Brazil will smaller stakes in places like Chile and Indonesia. The PowerShares allocates 17% to China and 10% each to South Africa and Brazil, with an additional 20% in the three developed countries mentioned above.

The sector make-up is also much different between the two. The largest sector in the iShares fund is utilities at 30%, followed by transportation infrastructure (toll-road operators and airports) at 27%. The industry weightings get much smaller from there. Toll-road companies and airports are typically categorized in the industrial sector, but many of the stocks trade more like high-yielding utility stocks. You could make the argument that almost 60% of the fund is in utility or utility-like stocks.

The PowerShares fund allocates 57% to industrial stocks (no toll roads or airports) and 40% to materials stocks with only 2% in utilities. Materials companies provide the cement, steel and copper needed to complete the building process.

There are very few names in the iShares fund that will be familiar to the typical investor, but there are quite a few recognizable stocks in the PowerShares fund, including Caterpillar ( CAT), ABB ( ABB), Vale ( VALE) and Foster Wheeler ( FWLT). Despite the fact that the funds target the same concept they have no holdings in common. Their trading correlation, however, is quite high at 0.96, according to ETFreplay.com.

The correlation in the past has decreased when stocks have been more volatile. Because of the heavier weighting to utility stocks, the iShares fund goes up less and down less than the materials-heavy PowerShares fund.

Neither fund is better than the other. The two target slightly different allocations within the same theme. For some investors, the lower volatility of the iShares fund will be preferable, but some people favor volatility.

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At the time of publication, Nusbaum held Vale, Caterpillar and the iShares S&P Emerging Markets Infrastructure Index Fund in client portfolios, although positions may change at any time.

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; click here to send him an email.