New China ETF Is for Investors Bullish on Banks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- According to Index Universe there are 28 China-related ETFs. The new PowerShares China A-Share Portfolio (CHNA) will be No. 29.

If you're unfamiliar with the various types of Chinese stocks, here's a quick primer. N-shares trade in the U.S. (The "N" stands for New York), H-shares trade in Hong Kong, S-shares trade in Singapore, B-shares trade in Shenzen and A-shares trade in Shanghai.

The A- and B-shares have only been accessible to local Chinese, but in the last few years certain foreign institutional investors were granted access to these markets. And some fund companies were able to create products that provide exposure to retail investors.

The Market Vectors China ETF ( PEK) also invests in the A-share market, but it uses a different benchmark than CHNA.

PEK does not own individual stocks because of the restrictions on access to the A-share market. Instead, it owns futures contracts to replicate the exposure to the index.

CHNA uses a similar technique of investing in futures contracts on the FTSE China A50 Index. These futures are traded in Singapore.

As is the case with most large-cap China ETFs, financials constitute the majority of CHNA's holdings. Financial stocks account for 67% of the index that CHNA tracks.

Consumer staples and materials make up another 8% each, with several other sectors having smaller weightings. Given that the index has only 50 holdings, the single-stock risk is reasonable: China Minshen Banking is the fund's largest holding, at 7.5%. The top five holdings, all financials, account for 30% of the fund.

Over the weekend, Barron's published several articles that made a point I've been making for years, which is that the broad, mega-cap funds such as iShares China Large-Cap ETF ( FXI), PEK and now CHNA don't effectively capture China's ascendant middle class or the Americanized lifestyle to which many Chinese aspire.

The big funds tend to be dominated by financial companies, which make up 55% of FXI's holdings, 38% of PEK's and 67% of CHNA's. Although FXI is down 2.7% this year and PEK is down 6.0%, the Global X China Technology ETF ( QQQC), which captures more of the consumer theme, is up more than 45% so far this year.

Well-known investor Jim Rogers was also featured in the latest Barron's. When asked about China, he was most excited about the ability of Chinese to travel more frequently both inside and outside of their country. He has purchased shares of seven different Chinese airlines.

The financial companies don't capture Chinese consumer trends and purchasing patterns. To the extent that there are problems with bad construction loans and mismanagement of debt issuance, the financials would seem to carry more risk, and this has been playing out in the performance of China-themed ETFs.

ETF provider WisdomTree said in a recent report that concerns about the Chinese banks are overblown. Wisdom Tree said that the ratio of nonperforming loans (NPL) is low, that the banks have set aside provisions equal to three times the value of NPLs and that the banks' stocks are cheap, with many having price-to-earnings ratios in the mid single digits.

At some point the financials should become attractive. Any investor believing that time is now would get plenty of exposure from any of the broad-based China funds, including CHNA.

At the time of publication, Nusbaum had no positions in securities mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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