Checking in on the BUNS

Do the exchange-traded funds for Belgium, UK, Netherlands and Spain have any upside potential?

By Benzinga Jul 2, 2012 2:51PM

Image: Europe (© Photodisc/SuperStock)By The ETF Professor, Benzinga

Investing acronyms are all the rage these days. BRIC has been around for a while and has since become BRICS, to include South Africa. CIVETS has risen to acclaim in recent years. MIST recently joined the scene but has been trumped by CAPPT.

Those acronyms are devoted to emerging markets, but there are some developed-market acronyms worth acknowledging as well. Acknowledgment does not necessarily mean an invitation to be long, however, and that has been the case with the BUNS nations -- Belgium, the U.K., the Netherlands, and Spain -- whose exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have been candidates for shorting since the term was coined in April. 

Even with Friday's rally, which came after European policymakers signaled they would loosen loan requirements for Spain and help Italy too, if needed, BUNS equities have been down sharply in the last few months.

Here is a review of the BUNS ETFs in an effort to see if any of them hold upside promise in the near term.

iShares MSCI Belgium Investable Market Index Fund (EWK

A jump of nearly 6% on Friday -- and some fresh buying Monday -- have helped EWK avert some near-term technical danger. That's good news, but there's more.

Earlier this month, Belgium's Federal Plan Bureau forecast 2012 and 2013 GDP growth rates of 0.5% and 1.3%, respectively. Those estimates imply that growth in the eurozone's sixth-largest economy should outpace the eurozone average.

EWK, which has lost 2.3% since BUNS was coined, looks to be on marginally firm footing today, compared to late April. That said, no European economy is out of the woods yet and EWK's 22% allocation to bank stocks is a red flag in this environment.

iShares MSCI United Kingdom Index Fund (EWU

The U.K. is not a eurozone member, but that status has not prevented the country from sliding into a recession. That has been a negative catalyst behind EWU's 5.6% slide in the past two months. EWU's other black mark is sector composition -- the fund devotes a combined 30% of its weight to energy and materials stocks.

It is not as if the likes of BP (BP), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-A) and Rio Tinto (RIO) are bad stocks. The problem is that those stocks (and other comparable fare) do not sit well with investors in a market that, until Friday, had been decidedly risk off in recent weeks.

iShares MSCI Netherlands Investable Market Index Fund (EWN

On Friday, the iShares MSCI Netherlands Investable Market Index Fund surged 5.3% on heavy volume and it continued its climb (up .50%) Monday. The Dutch economy inched its way out of a recession in the first quarter and the country can still lay claim to AAA credit rating.

The downside is that Dutch banking giant ING says the Dutch economy could be in for a triple dip. ING expects Dutch GDP to have contracted in the second quarter and to do the same in the third quarter.

iShares MSCI Spain Index Fund (EWP

On volume that was better than double the daily average, EWP soared 7.3% on Friday, leading the BUNS quartet higher (though it was down slightly Monday). Spaniards do have reason to celebrate. Policymakers have thrown the eurozone's fourth-largest economy a lifeline and Spain trounced Italy in the 2012 UEFA EURO championship Sunday.

There are still significant downside risks to this ETF, which is 40%-allocated to financials. Over the past two years, Europe-induced market rallies have shown a tendency to rapidly fade. Beyond that, less stringent loan requirements do not solve all of Spain's economic woes. The country is still home to the eurozone's highest unemployment rate and the country's budget deficit as a percentage of GDP increased in the first quarter.

More from Benzinga


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