The Middle East is big news this week with a state-owned company in the tiny emirate of Dubai asking for an extension on debt payments. Markets around the globe are watching intently.
I'm not especially surprised about this ...
If you've been to Dubai or seen pictures of the shiny new skyscrapers, you know the place has grown like wildfire. With much smaller oil reserves than its neighbors, Dubai has made its mark as a trading center and playground for the wealthy.
Thanks to exchange traded funds (ETFs), more Americans are investing in Middle Eastern markets. Timing is critical, of course, but you now have several quick and easy ways to trade the region's growth. Today I'll tell you about some of them.
6 ETFs to Trade the Middle East
The Middle East is a big, varied region. Some analysts lump North Africa into the mix — so sometimes you'll see the acronym MENA, which stands for Middle East and North Africa. Others focus specifically on the oil-rich states between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Here is the full list of ETFs that cover the region, or portions of it.
- iShares MSCI Israel Capped Investable Market (EIS)
- iShares MSCI Turkey Investable Market (TUR)
- SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa (GAF)
- WisdomTree Middle East Dividend Fund (GULF)
- Market Vectors Gulf States Index ETF (MES)
- PowerShares MENA Frontier Countries Portfolio (PMNA)
You'll notice that the first two funds, EIS and TUR, target single countries. Israel and Turkey are not the biggest countries in the region by any means, but they do have the most developed capital markets. Additional single-country ETFs in the region are expected to be launched next year.
The other ETFs on the above list are based on indexes that cover multiple world markets, sometimes ranging outside the Middle East. The exact mixture of countries varies considerably.
Some ETFs that sound "regional" are really quite concentrated ...
For example, Market Vectors Gulf States Index ETF (MES) has almost half of its portfolio invested in Kuwaiti stocks.
SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa (GAF) has more than 60 percent in South Africa, with most of its Middle East exposure in Israel.
And PowerShares MENA Frontier Countries Portfolio (PMNA) has about 30 percent in Qatar.
Dubai, in case you're wondering, is part of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). WisdomTree Middle East Dividend Fund (GULF) has about 17 percent in the U.A.E. while PMNA has around 23 percent.
2 Additional ETFs to Consider ...
JETS Dow Jones Islamic Markets (JVS) is a special case. The portfolio isn't geographically based. Instead, JVS includes international companies that conduct their business in accord with Islamic practices — avoiding alcohol, for instance. Many of the stocks held by JVS are from the U.K., France, Canada, Switzerland, Japan and other markets.
Barclays Asian & Gulf Currency Revaluation ETN (PGD) provides exposure to some of the regional currencies such as the Saudi Arabian riyal and United Arab Emirate dirham. However, it is not a pure play as three Asian currencies are also included.
Should You Buy the Middle East Now?
Undoubtedly, there are risks in the Middle East: Much of the region depends on high oil prices to generate steady income, and no one knows what oil prices will do. Ethnic and political tensions create geopolitical risks. And the area sits astride key trade routes, making it important to far-away powers as they compete for business.
What's more, most Middle Eastern countries are still classified as "emerging" and "frontier" markets. That means they can represent a tremendous growth opportunity — or a chance for huge losses.
Another point to keep in mind is that all the ETFs, and exchange traded notes (ETNs), I've mentioned are fairly new and haven't attracted huge assets. Volume is usually low, and the bid/ask spreads can be significant. So for now you need to be extremely careful when trading any of these funds. However, if the Middle East prospers, I expect they will do very well over time.
The bottom line is that thanks to the new world of ETFs, investing in the Middle East is now almost as easy as investing in the U.S. And if the Middle East gets through the current turbulence intact, now may be a great time to consider buying one of these ETFs.