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Best & Worst Performing Single Country ETFs

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Most investors know firsthand how well U.S. stocks have done in 2019. The S&P 500, with its 25.7% gain so far this year, is on track for its best showing since 2013.

Anyone holding ETFs tied to the venerable index—like the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) and the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)—has come along for the pleasant ride.

Just as they’ve done for much of this economic cycle, U.S. stocks have outperformed the majority of their overseas counterparts this year. If you take a look at the list of top-performing single-country ETFs, a plain old S&P 500 fund would be good enough for 15th place.

Only ETFs from a handful of countries—Greece, Russia, China, Italy, Switzerland and Brazil—have exceeded the S&P 500’s return in 2019. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of those funds, but keep in mind, none of them can really hold a candle to the performance of SPY, IVV or VOO over longer time periods. One year does not a trend make, but it could be the start of one.

Best-Performing Single-Country ETFs Of The Year

Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through Dec. 3. Only broad-market funds considered.

Unexpected Bright Spot In Europe

At the top of the heap of single-country ETFs is the Global X MSCI Greece ETF (GREK), with a return of 41.6%. Greek stocks were left for dead in the aftermath of the eurozone sovereign debt crisis earlier this decade, but more prudent fiscal policies have righted the economic ship, and Greece is suddenly one of the bright spots in Europe. The country’s gross domestic product has recently been growing at more than a 2% pace, double the growth rate for the broader eurozone.

Meanwhile, the Greek 10-year bond yield, which spiked to an astronomical 32% during in the midst of the debt crisis in 2011, fell to a record-low 1.33% in September, suggesting the country may be on a more sustainable fiscal path.

World’s Cheapest Market

Just behind GREK on the list of best-performing single-country ETFs is a pair of Russia-focused funds. The Franklin FTSE Russia ETF (FLRU) and the iShares MSCI Russia ETF (ERUS) gained more than 35% apiece.

The rebound in Russia stocks is more than a one-year phenomenon. ERUS has steadily risen since 2016, when Russia stocks hit rock bottom on the back of sanctions by the West and an oil price crash. This year’s rally pushed Russian stocks to the highest level since 2014, but some are still calling Russia’s one of the cheapest stock markets in the world.

The overall Russia equity market trades at a price-earnings ratio of just over 6, one-third the level of the U.S. market. Of course, investing in Russia is fraught with risk. From geopolitical risks to oil price risks, there’s a reason Russian stocks are so cheap.

That said, even a modest expansion in valuations for Russia stocks can lead to hefty returns, as has been the case this year. On top of that, investors get a handsome yield for taking on that risk; the current 30-day SEC yield for ERUS stands at 5.7%.

China’s Bounce Back

Over the past two years, no country outside of the U.S. has dominated headlines like China. The country has been the focus of countless stories due to its involvement in the U.S.-China trade war and its slowing economy. None of that news has been cheerful for China, so it’s somewhat of a surprise then that several China ETFs can be found on the best-performing single-country ETFs list for 2019.

The VanEck Vectors ChinaAMC SME-ChiNext ETF (CNXT) and the CSOP FFTSE China A50 ETF (AFTY) are each up more than 29% this year.

But don’t be too envious of those returns. These are performances that require context. China ETFs have merely recovered some of their hefty losses from last year. Investors priced in the trade war fallout in 2018, and as the economic impact on the country hasn’t been as severe as feared, shares have clawed back some of those losses.

This year’s gains are merely a blip in the biggest picture. In fact, the Chinese stock market hasn’t gone anywhere in more than a decade.

Worst Performers

Up until now, we’ve discussed the best-performing single-country ETFs, but we’ll take a look at the other side of the ledger too.

This has been such a good year for financial assets that even among the 20 worst performers, five are actually up, just by small amounts. There are really only a few funds that have truly cratered in 2019.

The iShares MSCI Chile ETF (ECH) is down 25.4%; the VanEck Vectors India Small-Cap Index ETF (SCIF) is down 24.2%; and the Global X MSCI Nigeria ETF (NGE) and the First Trust South Korea AlphaDEX Fund (FKO) are the only single-country ETFs down double-digit percentages.

Chile’s worst civilian protests in decades are clearly responsible for the woes of ECH. The protests, which are still ongoing, are a response to rising subway fares and growing income inequality in the country. If they continue, the Chilean economy may fall into a recession as early as the first quarter of 2020, according to analysts.

Meanwhile, India small cap ETFs like SCIF have been hammered this year, even as India large cap ETFs like the iShares MSCI India ETF (INDA) have risen. It’s a peculiar divergence that some analysts say could eventually reverse, with small caps outperforming large caps in the future.

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

Worst-Performing Single-Country ETFs Of The Year

Data measures total returns for the year-to-date period through Dec. 3. Only broad-market funds considered.

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

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