Is Now the Time to Short Emerging Markets?

by Jim Woods | January 28, 2011 5:01 am

So far in this young 2011, many of last year’s best-performing emerging markets have fallen victim to sellers. In fact, the entire emerging markets sector, as measured by the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (NYSE: EEM[1]), has come down relatively hard when compared to domestic markets. EEM is down about -3% year to date, with several of its biggest country components down substantially more.

So far this year, Indian stocks, as measured by the PowerShares India (NYSE: PIN[2]), have fallen -10.5%. There’s also been substantial weakness in South Africa, with the iShares MSCI South Africa Index (NYSE: EZA[3]) sinking -8.6% year to date. The Indonesian market, as measured by the Market Vectors Indonesia ETF (NYSE: IDX[4]), has dropped -7.4% this year, while Brazilian stocks in the iShares MSCI Brazil Index (NYSE: EWZ[5]) are down -3.7%.

Yet when it comes to emerging markets, not all are created equal. So far this year, Russian stocks, as measured by the Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSE: RSX[6]), have jumped 5.7%, while South Korean stocks in the iShares MSCI South Korea Index (NYSE: EWY[7]) have climbed 3.4%. The iShares MSCI Taiwan Index is up nearly 2% this year, and Chinese stocks in the SPDR S&P China ETF (NYSE: GXC[8]) are up nearly 1.5%. Rounding out the winning list of emerging markets is the iShares MSCI Mexico Index (NYSE: EWW[9]), up 0.8%, and the iShares MSCI Malaysia Index (NYSE: EWM[10]), higher by 0.7%.

Ticker Fund Name YTD%
EEM iShares MSCI Emerging Mkts Index -3.3%
GXC SPDR S&P China ETF 1.5%
EWZ iShares MSCI Brazil Index -3.7%
EWM iShares MSCI Malaysia Index 0.7%
EWW iShares MSCI Mexico Index 0.8%
EZA iShares MSCI South Africa Index -8.6%
EWY iShares MSCI South Korea Index 3.4%
EWT iShares MSCI Taiwan Index 2.0%
RSX Market Vectors Russia ETF 5.7%
PIN PowerShares India -10.5%
IDX Market Vectors Indonesia ETF -7.4%

The mixed bag of emerging market performance we’ve seen this year has some investors thinking that now is the time to bail out on the sector. However, others view the recent wider pullback as an opportunity to get in on the sector at an attractive price. Fortunately, there are both ETF and options offerings that accommodate investors of all risk appetites, and on both sides of emerging market fence.

Investors confident that the selling is a mere correction can buy the aforementioned iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (NYSE: EEM[1]) now that it’s come down off of its 2010 high. Supremely confident investors may want to leverage their emerging market exposure with the ProShares Ultra MSCI Emerging Markets (NYSE: EET[11]), a fund that seeks twice the daily performance of the MSCI Emerging Market Index.

More aggressive options traders can buy call options on EEM, and that is in fact what many are doing right now.  Open interest in the EEM Feb 47 calls is a robust 54,898, while the action in EEM Mar 47 calls is even bigger at 70,379.

Investors who think the selling in the space is a mere harbinger of more downside to come can buy the ProShares Short Emerging Markets (NYSE: EUM[12]), a fund designed to deliver the inverse performance of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. More aggressive investors can double down on their short bets via the ProShares UltraShort MSCI Emerging Markets (NYSE: EEV[13]). This ETF is designed to deliver twice the inverse performance of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index — or double the downside.

Options players also have a lot of choices here via EEM puts. The action has been very heavy here, with open interest on EEM Feb 46 puts currently at 150,810. The open interest on EEM Mar 46 puts is a whopping 217,723. That’s a strong signal indeed that quite a few investors are banking on more weakness in the sector.

As of this writing, Jim Woods did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

Endnotes:
  1. EEM: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EEM
  2. PIN: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=PIN
  3. EZA: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EZA
  4. IDX: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=IDX
  5. EWZ: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EWZ
  6. RSX: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=RSX
  7. EWY: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EWY
  8. GXC: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=GXC
  9. EWW: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EWW
  10. EWM: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EWM
  11. EET: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EET
  12. EUM: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EUM
  13. EEV: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=EEV

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