Under The Hood: A Different ETF Way to Asia

Well, there is finally an ETF for most of the countries ending in "-stan."

And for Mongolia, too. On the same day Global X introduced the first Nigeria ETF, the firm also unveiled the Global X Central Asia & Mongolia Index ETF (NYSE:AZIA).

With Wednesday's debut, the Global X Central Asia & Mongolia Index ETF is now officially the first ETF to offer investors ample exposure to resource-rich nations such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Investors should note the Solactive Central Asia & Mongolia Index, AZIA's underlying index, "is comprised of companies that are domiciled in, principally traded in or whose revenues are primarily from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan," according to Global X.

Translation: AZIA has some surprising country allocations. The 14 percent allocated to Russia, making that nation the second-largest weight in the new ETF behind the 46.1 percent heaped on Kazakhstan, probably is not surprising. The 4.75 percent each for Canada, Sweden and the U.K. might be a surprise to some.

At the sector level, AZIA is what investors would expect it to be. Materials and energy names comprise almost 81 percent of the ETF's weight. Financials garner a weight of 9.5 percent, but that is 4.75 percent each to two banks Halyk Savings Bank of Kazakhstan and Bank of Georgia. Those two stocks are top-10 holdings in the new ETF, but the rest of that lineup is energy and materials names.

And that makes sense as AZIA's constituent countries are producers of copper, gold, natural gas, oil and silver, among other hard assets.

"The International Monetary Fund forecast GDP growth of 5.5% in 2013 for energy-exporting Central Asian countries, while the Economist Intelligence Unit predicted that Mongolia will grow its GDP by nearly 14% this year, the second highest growth rate of any country," according to Global X.

Of course, proximity to China looms large when it comes to investing in Central Asia. China "ecently opened a $962 million railway with Kazakhstan through the Korgas Pass analysts expect the trade route to transport 20 million tons of cargo per year by 2020," Global X noted, citing the Economic times.

Like the Global X Nigeria Index ETF (NYSE:NGE) that also debuted on Wednesday, AZIA is a primarily a play on frontier, not, emerging markets. While that may be perceived as increased risk, frontier markets have low correlations to U.S. stocks and, in some cases, surprisingly low betas.

Of AZIA's constituent countries, Kazakhstan certainly has one trait that investors should not gloss over. That being a $56 billion sovereign wealth fund that could possibly swell to $100 billion by 2015. Sovereign wealth funds are an often under-appreciated element of investing in global ETFs, but they have helped bolster ETFs such as those tracking Chile and Norway whether investors realize it or not.

Home to 22 stocks, AZIA is top heavy with the 10 largest holdings accounting for nearly two-thirds of the fund's weight. The new ETF charges an annual expense ratio of 0.68 percent, which makes it slightly cheaper than the largest China ETF.

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