Thursday's ETF to Watch: iShares Switzerland

Aug.26.10 | About: iShares MSCI (EWL)

Many investors unlucky enough to maintain positions in European equities this year have felt the blowback from the worst financial crisis the euro zone has endured in its relatively short existence. Investors were quick to flee euro-denominated securities as anxiety over a potential debt crisis intensified, pulling down markets across the continent. While storm clouds continue to linger over Europe, a few rays of light have managed to shine through; there are a handful of European economies that remain independent from the 16 country currency bloc, many of whom maintain relatively rosy outlooks.

Switzerland, one of the most prosperous European countries not to join the euro zone, is one such example of strength in Europe despite the turmoil. Although the country is often thought of as the world’s most neutral country and a haven for financial activities, it has a lot more to offer than banking secrecy and fine chocolates. For starters, its currency, the franc, recently hit an all time high against the euro. Moreover, Switzerland boasts one of the world’s lowest inflation rates, and the government is even expecting a budget surplus this year–an unimaginable scenario throughout most of the continent.

Aside from a soaring currency, the country is frequently ranked as the most competitive nation in the world and is home to the sixth highest per capita GDP. Even the nation’s unemployment statistics would be desirable in most countries; Switzerland is “suffering” from its highest unemployment rate in the last ten years at 4.4%, a figure that is close to half of the EU average and about one-fourth the rate of Spain [see all ETFs with exposure to Switzerland on the Country Lookup Tool].

Today, the Swiss economy will be in focus as employment levels for the second quarter are released. This bulletin will serve as an indication of the health of the nation’s economy and could help to signal how the country is holding up amidst continued weakness in the rest of Europe and North America. Economists are expecting a 0.1% rise in employment levels, with the total number of people employed coming in at 3.961 million. If the numbers come in shy of expectations, markets could sink due on fears of stunted economic growth since employment levels are usually a good indicator of broader economic health. But if the numbers come in above expectations, markets may see gains due to a positive economic outlook that could help the franc surge even higher against the euro.

With this major announcement on tap, the iShares MSCI Switzerland Index Fund (NYSEARCA:EWL) should be active on Thursday. This fund tracks the MSCI Switzerland Index, a benchmark that makes big weightings to Nestle (OTCPK:NSRGY) (22%), Zurich Financial (OTC:ZFSVY) (5%), UBS (5%) and Credit Suisse (NYSE:CS) (5%). If the employment report impresses, EWL could continue to put distance between itself and the rest of the Europe Equities ETFdb Category. But if employment levels are showing signs of weakness, EWL could feel some of the pain that has crippled its neighbors this year.

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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.

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