The first means for individual investors to easily gain access to emerging Asian currencies debuted on Thursday.
But in this time of a more relaxed pace to global economic growth, another wrinkle could be of just as much interest. That's the fact that investors in the new ETN will receive monthly interest payments in addition to its underlying index's rate of return.
The Barclays GEMS Asia 8 ETN (NYSEArca: AYT) is actually the third such dividend-paying currency exchange-traded product on the market. It launches after Barclays Capital came out with its GEMS Index ETN (NYSEArca: JEM) and the Asian and Gulf Currency Revaluation ETN (NYSEArca: PGD).
"This is a brand new concept to offer currency exchange-traded products that also pay income," said Chance Carson, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based advisor and editor of AboutETFs.com.
Normally, currency ETNs will combine the price and interest earnings into calculating the underlying benchmark's value. "Currency ETNs allow investors for the first time to get interest payments passed through to them as well as participating in a particular currency's price appreciation," Carson said.
Interest payments for AYT will be treated as ordinary income, meaning investors won't get any tax breaks if held outside of tax-deferred accounts.
"The only way you could do something like this in the past is through making direct deposits in overseas banks," Carson added. "These three new ETNs represent the beginning of a trend that's likely to increase as more retired investors reach out to find different ways to gain more income across the world."
The idea for AYT came from institutional clients, says Philippe El-Asmar, a Barclays Capital marketing director. "This is a note we issued some time ago in response to client demand. Now, we're making it available to more clients by listing it through an exchange," he said.
Currently, of the 34 other ETNs or exchange-traded funds on the market providing access to currencies, the closest to AYT is JEM. Like AYT, it holds a basket of currencies through exposure to short-term notes and securities in local markets. But while the newest member of the group represents eight emerging Asian markets, JEM holds 15 different currencies.
The more diversified JEM has five each from South America, Asia and the Middle East. AYT provides exposure to: the Indonesian rupiah, the Indian rupee, the Philippine Peso, the South Korean Won, the Thai baht, the Malaysian ringgit, the Taiwanese dollar and the Chinese yuan. Like Barclays' JEM and PGD, the new ETN's index is equal-weighted.
"In a low-yield environment as we have now in the U.S., this approach to payout monthly coupons might prove to be attractive to income-minded investors," said Greg King, head of Barclays' advisor solutions group.
Every month, the income payments will come in the form of coupon yields since they're based on notes. Those yields will float since they're calculated using weighted averages based on one-month implied yields. For example, AYT's underlying index as of Aug. 20 had a current annualized yield of 4.56%.
"In general, yields in emerging markets currencies have been higher than in developed markets," said King.
By contrast, JEM has been yielding in the neighborhood of 7% over recent months. But that has swung as high as 9% as currency markets have been more volatile than normal of late. The spreads between high- and low- yielding currencies across emerging markets is also starting to show wider gaps. For example, the Turkish lira has been yielding as much as 16% in recent months.
In the last month, currency rates on seven of AYT's currencies have been falling, led by the South Korean won's 7% drop and the Indonesian rupiah's 6% slide. The exception has been the Chinese yuan, which has produced modest gains.
‘It appears that interest rates are going to keep falling in Asia, with the exception of the yuan, as global economic conditions continue to slow," Carson said.
In emerging markets, he prefers currency plays in Mexico where yields are averaging around 8.25% and Brazil, where rates are even higher.
As a result, Carson believes that while it's a well-constructed ETN, AYT might be coming to market at the wrong time for investors to jump aboard right now.
"This currency is just too concentrated. With the exception of China and India, these other countries are all pretty dependent on exporting business," he said. "The potential decline in currencies from this region and the relatively low yields this ETN is paying right now makes this a rather risky play. There's just not enough income protection at this point."
Carson prefers Mexico, where yields are around 8.25%. And Brazil has even higher yields right now, he notes.
"If I was going for yield, I'd like greater diversity than just focusing on Asia with something like JEM," Carson added. "Maybe six- to 12-months from now AYT would be a good play. But I'd wait on this one or wade into it very cautiously."
AYT's yearly fees are expected to wind up around 0.89% as a percentage of assets.
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