ETF Trends
ETF Trends

Africa may host the fastest growing economies in the emerging market world. While it’s also one of the most risky, there’s no need to sit on the sidelines. An ever-widening range of exchange traded funds (ETFs) that span the risk spectrum are appearing on the scene.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised Africa’s full-year 2010 economic growth estimates from 4.3% to 4.5%, putting the region at the forefront of the global economic recovery, writes Sam Hopkins for Wealth Daily. [Why Africa ETFs are forecast for growth.]

Still, IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn cautioned that “Africa will continue to face large, persistent and costly shocks. Without a secure standard of living, people might turn to unproductive or even violent activities, possibly leading to instability, a breakdown of democracy, or war.”

The IMF took a different approach in lending money to Africa during the financial crisis. The Fund allowed African countries to expand budget deficits and engage in loose monetary policy. Inflation was curbed with the aid of zero-interest IMF loans that helped support African currencies.

In a continent that has a poorly built fixed-line communications infrastructure, mobile phones has become the primary mode of communication in Africa. International mobile phone giant Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) wants to tap into Africa’s large cellphone markets with its Vodafone 150, which is touted as the world’s cheapest cellphone.

Market Vectors Africa ETF (NYSEArca: AFK) covers the growth potential of countries like Nigeria and Morocco with a price-to-earnings ratio of 10. The fund includes some obscure holdings to draw volume, and that could trap investors when AFK tanks, says Hopkins.

The recently launched Market Vectors Egypt Index (NYSEArca: EGPT) offers targeted exposure to one of Africa’s top economies. [Why Egypt ETF May Be Worth a Peek.]

The iShares MSCI South Africa Index Fund (NYSEArca: EZA) may be considered the best play on Africa since South Africa is the biggest economy on the continent. Caution, though: the country has a high unemployment rate, topping nearly 25%, and its economy may take a large hit if any major drops occur in commodities.

SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa (NYSEArca: GAF) gives investors a more diversified play on the African and Middle Eastern economies. South Africa, Egypt and Morocco are well represented in this fund and more countries means mitigated risk.

PowerShares MENA Frontier Countries Portfolio (NYSEArca: PMNA) gives investors another diversified play on the African and Middle Eastern economies. Egypt and Morocco are major components in this fund and, like EZA, more countries means lower risk.

If you want exposure to Africa but are concerned about risk, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wait on the sidelines. If you’ve found an ETF that’s otherwise right for you, consider incorporating a simple strategy with a stop loss (and use it!). One we follow is the 200-day moving average; when a position is above that mark, it’s a buy signal, when it’s below, it’s a sell. [More on Trend Following Here.]

For more information on Africa, visit our Africa category.

Max Chen contributed to this article.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.