Worst Performing Single Country ETFs

Some single-country ETFs such as the Turkey fund are down as much as 55% this year alone.

Senior ETF Analyst
Reviewed by: Sumit Roy
Edited by: Sumit Roy

Turkey is in crisis. The country’s currency, the lira, plummeted by 14% on Friday and another 8% on Monday following President Trump’s announcement of a doubling of tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Turkey.

It was the latest salvo against a currency that has been in absolute free fall—down 46% against the U.S. dollar so far in 2018—leading to dire consequences for Turkey’s economy and stock market.

“This is a textbook currency crisis that’s morphing into a debt and liquidity crisis due to policy mistakes,” Win Thin, strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., told Bloomberg. “The way things are going, markets need to be prepared for a hard landing in the economy, corporate defaults on foreign currency debt, and possible bank failures.”

Markets are keenly aware of how dire the situation is for Turkey’s economy. The iShares MSCI Turkey ETF (TUR) is down 55% year-to-date, making it the worst-performing single-country ETF of 2018.

But it’s not the only ETF of its kind getting hammered. A host of other single-country ETFs are down double-digit percentages—most of them tracking emerging markets—as contagion spreads throughout the broader asset class.

Here we run down some of those funds:

iShares MSCI Turkey ETF (TUR): Down 54.7%

Far and away the worst-performing single-country ETF, TUR’s losses are more than double that of the No. 2 fund on our list. How bad is the outlook for Turkey?

  • The country is sitting on foreign-currency debt equal to about half of annual GDP after years of growth-at-any-cost policies—debt that is increasingly costly as the lira plunges
  • The current account deficit exceeds 6% of GDP
  • Inflation is running at a sizzling 16%, and is set to worsen with the lira’s slide
  • Interest rates are nearly 18%, but even higher rates may be needed to stabilize the currency
  • President Erdogan is seemingly running all the important institutions in the country, including the central bank, which he has dissuaded from hiking rates
  • As a result of all of the above, the currency is in a free fall

There are no easy solutions to escape the vicious cycle Turkey finds itself in. Analysts say some combination of interest rate hikes, economic rebalancing that reduces growth and deficits, or even an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout may be necessary.

The longer President Erdogan waits to accept these realities, the longer it will take to get through the crisis, they say. Economic growth, which topped 7% in the second quarter, could soon slip into negative territory, and even when the downturn eventually ends, the new growth trajectory for Turkey is likely to look a lot different than that of the past several years.

Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (ARGT): Down 22.4%

Argentina may have gotten the nod from MSCI to be added to its widely benchmarked MSCI Emerging Markets Index next year, but that hasn’t stopped Argentina stocks from tumbling. The Global X MSCI Argentina ETF (ARGT) and the other Argentina-focused ETF, the iShares MSCI Argentina and Global Exposure ETF (AGT), are down more than 20% year-to-date.

There are more than a few parallels between the crisis engulfing Turkey and the situation in Argentina. The latter also has twin deficits, rapid inflation, sky-high interest rates and a tumbling currency.

But while Turkey’s president remains intransigent, his Argentine counterpart, Mauricio Macri, seems to be doing everything by the book to right the economic ship.

The business-friendly president orchestrated a $50 billion IMF bailout in June, and promised to reduce the government’s budget deficit and bring down inflation.

The moves brought some stability to Argentine markets. AGT and other ETFs targeting the country rebounded from their worst levels in July. However, the Argentine peso remains under intense pressure, last touching an all-time low on Monday of 30 per U.S. dollar.

iShares MSCI South Africa ETF (EZA): Down 21.2%

Compared with some other emerging markets, South Africa isn’t doing so badly. Inflation is a relatively benign 4.5%; GDP is growing at an underwhelming-but-still-positive 1.5%; and the country doesn’t have a huge burden of foreign-currency-denominated bonds.

Even so, the broader retreat in appetite for emerging market assets has hurt South Africa equity and debt, which are heavily owned by foreign investors. Around 40% of South Africa’s stocks and bonds are owned by foreigners—among the highest percentages in the emerging markets—leaving asset prices susceptible to rapid portfolio-related inflows and outflows.

The iShares MSCI South Africa ETF (EZA) is down 21.2% so far this year.

SPDR MSCI China A Shares IMI ETF (XINA): Down 20.6%

While Turkey may have overshadowed it during the past week, for most of 2018, another country has dominated the headlines: China. The country is at the center of the biggest economic conflict of the year, the trade war between the U.S. and China.

President Trump has railed against China, claiming the Asia giant is not playing fair when it comes to trade. His weapon of choice has been tariffs, which he is using to pressure China into changing its ways.

So far, China isn’t giving in. After the U.S. placed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, China fired back with tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. goods. Trump has threatened to retaliate with even more tariffs, possibly covering all Chinese imports into the U.S.

While damaging to both countries, so far, its China’s market that is feeling the brunt of the growing, tit-for-tat trade war. The SPDR MSCI China A Shares IMI ETF (XINA) and other ETFs targeting mainland China stocks are down to the lowest levels since 2016, sharply underperforming U.S. stocks, which are close to all-time highs.

No one knows how or when the China-U.S. trade war will end, but for investors in China ETFs, that end can’t come soon enough.

First Trust Brazil AlphaDEX Fund (FBZ): Down 15.7%

There are plenty of reasons you could point to as to why Brazil stocks are down this year, not the least of which is the fact that they nearly tripled in value between January 2016 and January 2018. After a run like that, the 15.7% decline for the First Trust Brazil AlphaDEX Fund (FBZ) doesn’t seem all that significant.

Still, like many emerging markets, Brazil is grappling with a crisis of confidence. Investors are jittery ahead of important elections in October, where far-left, far-right and centrist candidates are all seen as having relatively equal chances of victory.

In addition to the election factor, similar to its emerging market peers, Brazil is facing a spiraling currency and weighty deficits.

For a full list of this year’s worst-performing single-country ETFs, see the table below:


Worst-Performing Single-Country ETFs Of 2018

TickerFundYTD Return (%)
TUR iShares MSCI Turkey ETF-54.48
ARGT Global X MSCI Argentina ETF-22.54
AGTiShares MSCI Argentina and Global Exposure ETF-22.27
EZA iShares MSCI South Africa ETF-20.93
XINASPDR MSCI China A Shares IMI ETF-20.57
PEK VanEck Vectors ChinaAMC CSI 300 ETF-19.83
ASHR Xtrackers Harvest CSI 300 China A-Shares ETF-19.72
ASHX Xtrackers MSCI China A Inclusion Equity ETF-19.34
KBA KraneShares Bosera MSCI China A Share ETF-18.93
CNHX CSOP MSCI China A International Hedged ETF-18.62
CNYA iShares MSCI China A ETF-18.58
EIDO iShares MSCI Indonesia ETF-18.25
HAHA CSOP China CSI 300 A-H Dynamic ETF-17.92
EPHE iShares MSCI Philippines ETF-17.90
IDXVanEck Vectors Indonesia Index ETF-16.75
FKO First Trust South Korea AlphaDEX Fund-16.57
GREK Global X MSCI Greece ETF-16.54
PLND VanEck Vectors Poland ETF-16.41
FBZ First Trust Brazil AlphaDEX Fund-15.79
FLKRFranklin FTSE South Korea ETF -15.71

Note: Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through Aug. 13

Editors note: Table updated to reflect end-of-day closing values.

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

Sumit Roy is the senior ETF analyst for etf.com, where he has worked for 13 years. He creates a variety of content for the platform, including news articles, analysis pieces, videos and podcasts.

Before joining etf.com, Sumit was the managing editor and commodities analyst for Hard Assets Investor. In those roles, he was responsible for most of the operations of HAI, a website dedicated to education about commodities investing.

Though he still closely follows the commodities beat, Sumit covers a much broader assortment of topics for etf.com, with a particular focus on stock and bond exchange-traded funds.

He is the host of etf.com’s Talk ETFs, a popular video series that features weekly interviews with thought leaders in the ETF industry. Sumit is also co-host of Exchange Traded Fridays, etf.com’s weekly podcast series.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he enjoys climbing the city’s steep hills, playing chess and snowboarding in Lake Tahoe.