A balanced ETF to bet on India

Investors who think the forgotten BRIC nation can climb out of the doldrums should seek exposure through a geographically diversified fund.

By TheStreet Staff Nov 15, 2011 12:54PM

By Don Dion, TheStreet TheStreet


Clear hurdles persist, but as we approach the end of 2011 and prepare for the new year, it may be time to start looking at the forgotten member of the BRIC nations: India.


It has been a trying year for the Indian marketplace as issues such as inflation and corruption have weighed heavily on performance and led many to question the strength of the emerging economic growth engine.


Investors were reminded of the challenges facing India at the start of the week when the nation reported that inflation remained above 9% for the eleventh consecutive month.


The nation's disturbing inflation report has raised alarm. However, there have also been some glimmers of promise to come from India recently. For example, tensions between India and Pakistan appear to have eased. Officials from both nations are in the process of constructing a plan aimed towards improving trade ties.


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In addition, although the nation has faced a great deal of challenges on the economic front in recent months, not everyone shares a bleak outlook. The Economic Times reports that panelists speaking at the World Economic Forum's India summit have expressed confidence in the nation's ability to stick to a path of economic growth.


Due to their dedicated focus towards India's marketplace, ETFs like the WisdomTree India Earnings ETF (EPI), PowerShares India Portfolio (PIN) and Market Vectors India Small Cap Index ETF (SCIF) are the most obvious choices for bullish investors looking to target this emerging nation. However, given the nation's shaky performance throughout much of the past year and the challenges it will likely face on the road ahead, these funds are not the best options for investors.


A better way for bullish investors to capture exposure to India at this time is through a geographically-diversified product.


BRIC region funds, for instance, are more stable options for those looking to gain access to India's marketplace at this time. By spreading assets across a number of nations, the inherent risks associated with India's markets can be mitigated.


Unfortunately, as we can see from looking at the geographic breakdowns of popular BRIC-focused funds like the iShares MSCI BRIC Index Fund (BKF), finding substantial exposure to India can be a challenging task. Oftentimes nations like Brazil and China command the lion's share of the assets. India, meanwhile, is cast to the sidelines, accounting for only a minor slice of the index. In BKF, for example, the nation represents only 15.5% of the index.


Although it has struggled with volume in the past, First Trust's Chindia Index Fund (FNI) may be a better designed product for those looking to take a relatively safe bet on an India turnaround. The fund aims to spread its exposure evenly across its 50-component index, setting aside 25 spots for Indian firms and 25 for China-based names.


Top Indian companies found within FNI's index include HDFC Bank (HDB), Infosys Technologies (INFY) and ICICI Bank (IBN).


FNI's near term performance will be aided in the event that India can gain some footing. More recently, however, the fund's substantial exposure to China has been a boon. Over the past three months, FNI has managed to comfortably outpace dedicated India ETFs. Meanwhile year-to-date, the fund has surpassed the broad-BRIC-tracking BKF.


While attitudes towards India are mixed at this time, this could be a nation to watch as we look to the months ahead. Gaining appropriate and safe exposure, however, can be a tricky task. FNI's mix of India- and China-based companies makes it a strong bet.


Still, any investors looking to try their luck here should exercise extreme caution. The fund's low average volume could present challenges for those looking to quickly move in and out of positions.


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