The Eurozone's sovereign debt crisis is nowhere close to being solved, but a favorable market environment has led to a resurgence for some of the embattled region's most egregious ETF offenders. As ETFs tracking Italy and Spain have bounced in recent months, funds tracking the Nordic region have delivered superior returns.
That is not surprising as analysts and traders previously speculated the Nordic countries were a source of strength on an otherwise economically troubled continent.
Over the past three months, the iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (NYSE:EWI) has gained almost 7.6 percent while the iShares MSCI Spain Index Fund (NYSE:EWP) is up almost 3.7 percent. Combined, those gains barely top what investors could have had with one ETF: The Global X FTSE Norway 30 ETF (NYSE:NORW).
To be sure, Norway and the Global X FTSE Norway 30 ETF have had some struggles, but the horizon is brightening for the ETF.
"People want to figure out how to get exposure to Europe without the Eurozone," Alex Ashby, research analyst at Global X, said in an interview with Benzinga. "The Nordic region provides Europe exposure so investors can play a rebound there with countries on the periphery."
Statoil (NYSE:STO), Norway's state-run oil producer, and oil services provider SeaDrill (NYSE:SDRL), combine for over 29 percent of NORW's weight, underscoring the fund's status as an energy play. However, the fund does feature 13.2 percent weight to Norwegian financial services names, a sector worth watching as money departs PIIGS banks and heads to healthier financial institutions in Northern Europe.
"One thing people will monitor is the effect of inflows from PIIGS on the Norwegian krone," said Ashby. "It is not a big issue at the moment, but it could have to be more actively managed."
The issue of inflows from the PIIGS is arguably more relevant to the Global X FTSE Nordic Region ETF (NYSE:GXF). GXF, which offers combination exposure to Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, features a weight of nearly 28 percent to bank stocks.
That has not stopped GXF from surging 12.4 percent in the past 90 days. Over that time, GXF has outperformed the Vanguard MSCI Europe ETF (NYSE:VGK) by nearly 400 basis points. GXF, which celebrates its third birthday Friday, now has $27.7 million in assets under management.
Still, it is hard to ignore Norway's status as an oil exporter, which highlights the advantages of NORW. The ETF gives investors, "a more diversified basket of Norway's economy," Ashby said.
There are other advantages of Norway's prominence in the oil business, namely a $600 billion sovereign wealth that is larger than the country's GDP, according to Global X CEO Bruno del Ama.
A nation's sovereign wealth fund can be akin to a company's cash on the balance sheet in that investors do not always know how to value the monetary stockpile, but the advantages for Norway are clear.
"People don't know exactly know how to value the sovereign wealth fund," del Ama said. "It's hard to measure at the qualitative levels, but it diminishes the impact of lower oil prices. Norway can use the sovereign wealth to stimulate the economy if it needs to. This is a unique macro tool people forget about."
Oil prices have rallied in recent weeks, helping NORW surge 7.4 percent in the past month. That means Norway probably will not have to rely on the sovereign wealth fund anytime soon. Still, $600 billion is a nice backstop for any economy to have and that balance sheet strength is arguably not being fully reflected in the price of GXF or NORW at current levels.
For more on Nordic ETFs, click here.
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