Emerging Markets' Steep Spiral Hits ETFs

August 21, 2015

Not All About China

That said, emerging markets aren't all about China. After all, about 80 percent of the exposure in the big emerging market ETFs comes from elsewhere. For EEM, which tracks the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, South Korea has the second-largest weighting, at 14 percent.

For VWO, which follows an emerging market index from FTSE, India takes the No. 2 position, with a 13.5 percent weighting. In fact, VWO doesn't even hold South Korean stocks—the country isn't considered an emerging market by FTSE.

Altogether, Asia Pacific countries represent about 60 percent of EEM's portfolio, followed by 10 percent for Africa/Middle East, 9 percent for South/Central America, 8.7 percent for Central Asia, 7.2 percent for Eastern Europe and 5 percent for North America.

Source: Bloomberg

For VWO, it's 51 percent in Asia Pacific, 13.5 percent in Central Asia, 11 percent in Africa/Middle East, 10.5 percent in South/Central America, 8.5 percent in Eastern Europe and 5.5 percent in North America.

Source: Bloomberg

Commodity Bust Weighs

Unfortunately, diversification across regions has done little to stem the decline in these ETFs. While Asian countries reel from the slowdown in China, Africa and the Middle East face their own problems from the precipitous decline in commodity prices.

South Africa, which holds the largest weighting in the region by far, has felt the pinch from plunging prices for metals, particularly platinum and palladium. Meanwhile, Gulf energy producers like the UAE and Qatar have been slammed by the worst oil bust in decades.

The oil bust has, of course, spread beyond just the Middle East. Russia, the biggest emerging market in Eastern Europe, has an economy that is notoriously dependent on crude. The country's GDP contracted by 4.6 percent year-over-year in the second quarter of this year, largely due to the drop in oil and natural gas prices.

South America is another region hurt by the commodity slump. Brazil, the most notable market on the continent, is a leading producer of a multitude of commodities, essentially all of which have been plunging recently. From sugar to coffee to soybeans to iron ore, it's been an ugly year for Brazil's commodity industry.

Brazil's economy has also struggled with high inflation and a massive corruption scandal. If the U.S. Federal Reserve hikes interest rates later this year as many expect, that could push Brazil's inflation rate even higher, should the country's currency continue to depreciate. Earlier this month, the real hit a 12-year low against the dollar.

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