2 Foreign Plays on a Falling Dollar

04/20/2011 3:20 pm EST

Focus: ETFS

Benjamin Shepherd

Analyst, Breakthrough Tech Profits, Global Income Edge and Personal Finance

These ETFs offer decent, safe yields from slow-growing European businesses and booming emerging-market bonds, writes Benjamin Shepherd in Louis Rukeyser’s Mutual Funds.

American investors often assume that international investments inherently carry greater risk than domestic fare. As a result, they rarely look overseas in search of yield, even though there’s much to reward the intrepid investor abroad.

Months of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa have rattled investors. But the region appears to be on a path to democracy. Almost a month after the earthquake and tsunami, Japan is coping well with its own crisis. The worst-case scenarios built into valuations appear less likely to materialize.

Nonetheless, the valuations of all manner of international income-investment vehicles remain depressed—even in less-troubled regions of the world.

This as an excellent opportunity to add international income to your portfolio.

SPDR S&P International Dividend (DWX), which offers a 3.9% yield, tracks a global index comprising the 100 highest yielding common stocks and American depositary receipts listed on the primary exchanges of the S&P/Citigroup Broad Market Index. The fund allows investors to tap global dividends without taking on excessive risk.

Almost three-quarters of the fund’s $392 million in assets under management are devoted to Europe, with Spain and the UK the region’s heaviest weightings. The fund also has hefty allocations to Australia and South America. Israel and Japan account for 6.8% and 1.4% of assets, respectively.

With its primary concentrations in utilities (25.9% of assets), financials (24.5%), and telecom services (23.6%), the fund’s portfolio is a who’s who of European heavyweights in stable, core industries that have fallen out of favor.

Lottomatica (OTC: LOTTY) and Bolsas y Mercados (OTC: BOLYY) are the fund’s two largest positions at about 4% of assets each. The former, based in Italy, is one of the world’s largest lottery and gaming operators. The latter operates Spain’s stock exchanges.

Both companies’ shares have come under pressure over continued worries about Spain and Italy’s sovereign debt. However, both Bolsas y Mercados and Lottomatica have posted stronger-than-expected earnings growth.

Despite the turmoil, European consumers have continued to play the lottery and trade stocks. Bolsas y Mercados has even seen the trading volume on its exchange—and revenue—rise, amid higher volatility.

SPDR S&P International Dividend’s portfolio encompasses mature, slow-growth companies that have fallen out of favor. But the bulk of the fund’s holdings, with the exception of financials, is concentrated in cyclically defensive industries. The fund currently yields just better than 4%.

Emerging-market bonds are also an attractive opportunity for investors with a tolerance for risk.

WisdomTree Emerging Markets Local Debt (ELD) is one of five exchange traded funds that specialize in emerging-market debt.

It is only the second fund to buy debt denominated in local currencies rather than the US dollar. That’s an important distinction, as it provides investors with exposure to foreign currencies and fixed income—a favorable characteristic if the greenback weakens.

Management employs a quantitative approach to selecting portfolio holdings, which are broken down into three tiers. Large countries with liquid bonds, such as Brazil and Mexico, are grouped in the top tier, with initial base weightings of 11.1%.

Countries in the next tier, such as South Africa and Turkey, are weighted at 7.4%. Those nations in the bottom tier, such as Chile and Russia, carry base weightings of 3.7% apiece. The fund is actively managed, allowing management to overweight promising markets and avoid troubled ones.

Launched in mid-August of 2010 with $125 million in assets, the fund has already grown to a market cap of almost $700 million—impressive growth for a young fund. It averages more than 170,000 shares in daily trading volume, a sign of its popularity among investors.

With an expense ratio of 0.55% and a yield of about 4%, with plenty of upside potential, this fund is a savvy play on the growth of emerging markets.

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