Best & Worst Performing Emerging Market ETFs

Emerging markets as an asset class are up this year, but country-specific returns vary widely.

Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
Edited by: Sumit Roy

It’s been a wild ride for emerging markets (EM) this year. After starting 2019 with a bang, the world’s largest EM fund, the $61.6 billion Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO), was suddenly caught reeling.

VWO’s stellar year-to-date gain of 15.7% in April turned into a much more modest 4.6% gain in May, before rebounding slightly to 6.7% currently.

The rival iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (IEMG), with $56.8 billion in assets, followed a similar path this year—a hot start followed by a recent retrenchment.


YTD Returns For VWO, IEMG


Emerging markets, of course, haven’t been immune from the worries that have rattled global markets during the past several weeks. The U.S.-China trade war remains front and center in investors’ minds. Add on top of that fresh concerns about the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship, and you have a recipe for fear, uncertainty and doubt, which gives investors pause.

It doesn’t help that China and Mexico are both EMs; understandably, that fact has dampened appetite for the asset class. Yet when you break down this year’s EM returns, you get some surprising results.

China ETFs Surprise

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that, despite being ground zero for the most consequential trade war in decades, Chinese stocks are actually doing quite well this year.

In fact, eight of the top 10 best-performing EM ETFs are China funds. That includes the Global X MSCI China Consumer Staples ETF (CHIS), up 26.92%; the CSOP FTSE China A50 ETF (AFTY), up 23.8%; and the KraneShares CICC China Leaders 100 Index ETF (KFYP), up 20%.


Best Performing EM ETFs Of 2019 (ex. leveraged/inverse)

Ticker Fund YTD Return (%)
CHIS  Global X MSCI China Consumer Staples ETF 26.90
AFTY  CSOP FTSE China A50 ETF 23.82
FLRU  Franklin FTSE Russia ETF 22.97
ERUS iShares MSCI Russia ETF 22.47
KFYP  KraneShares CICC China Leaders 100 Index ETF 20.02
ASHR Xtrackers Harvest CSI 300 China A-Shares ETF 19.79
RSX VanEck Vectors Russia ETF 18.89
PEK VanEck Vectors ChinaAMC CSI 300 ETF 18.70
CHNX CSOP MSCI China A International Hedged ETF 18.63
KBA  KraneShares Bosera MSCI China A Share ETF 18.40

Note: Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through June 5


Sure, these ETFs were up even more in April—as much as 38%—but the fact that China ETFs are outperforming to such a strong degree in the face of such negative news flow is pretty impressive.

Analysts point to relatively cheap valuations following last year’s drop in Chinese stocks and potential government buying as factors that could be propping up China ETFs in 2019.

Russia Becoming More Investor Friendly?

The only three non-China ETFs to land in the top EM ETF list are the Franklin FTSE Russia ETF (FLRU) and the iShares MSCI Russia ETF (ERUS), each up more than 19%.

Russian ETFs have been doing well this year after several high-profile companies significantly hiked their dividends this year, bowing to pressure from Russia’s Finance Ministry to give more money back to shareholders.

Energy giant Gazprom more than doubled its dividend unexpectedly in May, fueling a more than 40% increase in its share price. Gazprom is the largest holding for most Russia ETFs, and its recent investor-friendly move has no doubt buoyed sentiment in the broader Russian stock market.

India’s Divergence

While China dominates the best-performing EM ETF list, the other side of the ledger features a more eclectic group of funds.

At the top of this list is the Columbia India Small Cap ETF (SCIN), down 7.4% year to date. SCIN is one of several India-related ETFs that have fared poorly this year despite the recent reelection of business-friendly Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


Worst Performing EM ETFs Of 2019 (ex. leveraged/inverse)

Ticker Fund YTD Return (%)
SCIN  Columbia India Small Cap ETF -7.37
INCO  Columbia India Consumer ETF -6.34
SCIF VanEck Vecors India Small-Cap Index ETF -4.48
INXX Columbia India Infrastructure ETF -4.44
TUR iShares MSCI Turkey ETF -4.31
ECH iShares MSCI Chile ETF -3.96
INR Market Vectors-Indian Rupee/USD ETN -2.13
QAT  iShares MSCI Qater ETF -1.33
FXCH Invesco CurrencyShares Chinese Renminbi Trust -0.86
CHIC Global X MSCI China Communication Services ETF -0.74

Note: Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through June 5


Counterintuitively, SCIN and the others on the list, including the Columbia India Consumer ETF (INCO) and the Columbia India Infrastructure ETF (INXX), have done badly, even as the largest ETF in the space, the iShares MSCI India ETF (INDA), has rallied nearly 8% this year.

The difference comes down to exposure. INDA is weighted heavily toward large cap Indian stocks, and financial, technology and energy stocks in particular.

The India ETFs that have lagged this year focus on small caps, industrials and consumer stocks—areas that have underperformed.

Other Underperformers

Outside of India ETFs, other poor-performing EM ETFs include the iShares MSCI Turkey ETF (TUR), the iShares MSCI Chile ETF (ECH), the iShares MSCI Chile ETF (ECH) and the iShares MSCI Qatar ETF (QAT), with losses of 1% to 6.5%.

Ironically, a China equity ETF is also struggling this year, the Global X MSCI China Communication Services ETF (CHIC), down 0.7% even as other China funds surge.

CHII’s performance goes to show that EM ETFs aren’t all built the same. Just as with U.S. funds, exposure can vary widely, so it’s always important to check under the hood.

​Email Sumit Roy at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @sumitroy2

Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for, where he's worked for 12 years. Before joining the company, Roy was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing pickleball and snowboarding.