Many market observers and pundits have been saying for a while now that the U.S. equity market is the place to be. Returns prove as much.
Though Tuesday was just one day, forty-one of the 105 exchange traded funds that hit new 52-week lows yesterday were global or international funds, a factoid emblematic of the struggles equity markets outside the U.S. have faced this year.
While emerging markets ETFs have continued to be thorns in the sides of investors, well-known developed markets funds have provided little relief. Over the past six months, the iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (NYSEArca: EFA) and the Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (NYSEArca: VEA) are down an average of 9.5% while the S&P 500 is higher by 5.6%. [Asset Allocation With ETFs]
This is how bad things have gotten for ex-U.S. developed market equities against the S&P 500: A ratio measuring the MSCI EAFE Index, EFA’s underlying index, against the benchmark U.S. index hovers near its worst levels in four and a half decades.
“Specifically, the ratio between the performance of the EAFE (which stands for Europe, Australasia and the Far East) and the S&P 500 hit an all-time low in November. A 45-year low should paint the picture pretty clearly regarding the magnitude of under-performance on the part of foreign stocks,” according to Dana Lyons of J. Lyons Fund Management.
Arguably, things should not be this way for EFA. The ETF allocates 21% of its weight to Japan, which has treated investors to a (until recently) stimulus-induced tumble in the yen. The European Central Bank has quantitative easing designs of its own, which is important to EFA because the ETF allocates over 27% of its weight to five Eurozone economies. [Getting Bearish With Euro ETFs]
However, neither EFA nor VEA are currency hedged ETFs, indicating that both expose investors to significant currency risk should the U.S. dollar remain a darling among major currencies. This is a vital consideration when acknowledging dollar weakness from 2000 through 2013 account for nearly all of the MSCI EAFE Index’s upside. [Currency Hedged ETFs Shine]
A silver lining could be emerging.