Barclays Wins Race For All-Global Stock ETF

March 28, 2008

BGI also launches single-country ETFs for Turkey, Thailand and Israel as well as an ETN for G-10 currencies. 


U.S. consumers looking for a true all-world fund just got one Friday as Barclays Global Investors launched four new exchange-traded funds, each opening direct access to different international markets.

Another global iShares ETF and an iPath foreign currency exchange-traded note also listed. Although they aren't first-to-market in their respective categories, each brings a new wrinkle to global investing.

Opening new ground to U.S.-based investors was a trio of single-country iShares, one each for Thailand, Turkey and Israel.

But the biggest asset attractor is likely to be the iShares MSCI ACWI Index Fund (NASDAQ: ACWI). It certainly boasts the broadest appeal with some 2,884 different stocks from developed as well as emerging markets in every investable market in the world.

"BGI's new global ETF enhances their franchise and strikes a blow to Northern Trust and others who were trying to come out with similar products," said Paul Mazzilli, director of ETF research at Morgan Stanley.

ACWI is also possibly the most unique of the group. And it's priced with an expense ratio of 0.35%, likely to open the rush for such all-encompassing, one-stop global ETFs at an attractive and affordable level for most investors. And the ETF tracks the MSCI All-Country World Index, one of the most widely followed in global markets.

Easy All-World Access 

In the fund's prospectus, it says BGI expects a 95% correlation with that benchmark. "This basically takes all of the different MSCI components and puts it together in one package," said Noel Archard, BGI's head of U.S. iShares product development. "We have a lot of clients who want single-country exposure. But certainly a lot also want single point-and-click access to the world."

All-world exposure exists to a limited degree in ETFs such as the iShares S&P Global 100 Index (NYSE: IOO) and the SPDR Dow Jones Global Titans Index (AMEX: DGT). But those are mega-cap focused with no meaningful emerging markets coverage. Both are also more expensive than ACWI.

At the end of 2007, the U.S. had about 42% of the MSCI All-Country index's weighting. Meanwhile, Canada represented 4% and Europe comprised 31%. Emerging markets made up 11% and Japan had 8.5%.

The ETF will use sampling techniques to replicate the MSCI index. "The Fund's use of a representative sampling indexing strategy can be expected to result in greater tracking error than if the Fund used a replication indexing strategy," according to the ACWI's prospectus.

ACWI also shoots for about 90% coverage of world markets. By comparison, the ETF that Northern Trust is planning to come out with later this year (using its own NETS all-world index) claims exposure to 98% of all global markets. Those also include the U.S. and other developed countries as well as emerging markets.

The iShares ETF was designed around its MSCI benchmark, says Archard, with both tracking error and bid/ask spreads in mind. "We want to be tight on tracking error in a product with enough liquidity in the marketplace to keep the spreads together," he said.

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