Is iShares Trying To Crowd Out The Smaller Competition?

by: Roger Nusbaum

One of the first ETFs for Latin America is the iShares S&P Latin America 40 Index Fund (NYSEARCA:ILF). I am pretty sure that iShares Brazil (NYSEARCA:EWZ) and iShares Mexico (NYSEARCA:EWW) predate ILF going back to the WEBS days (WEBS=world equity baskets).

A few days ago iShares came out with a surprisingly similar Latam fund with its new MSCI Emerging Markets Latin America Index Fund (NASDAQ:EEML). Obviously the index provider is different but I can't imagine there is any real differentiation.

Brazil is by far the largest country in both, at 57% in ILF and 66% in EEML. Mexico weighs in at 24% and 20% respectively and Chile, Colombia and Peru round out the rest of the funds. Peculiarly, Peru accounts for 3.9% of ILF but less than 1% in EEML. The sector weightings for the largest sectors are virtually identical with financials and materials being the largest.

ILF, having only 40 stocks, means the holdings are larger; America Movil (NYSE:AMX), Petrobras (NYSE:PBR) and client holding VALE are the largest in ILF, at about 10% each and those three are also the largest in EEML.

iShares has done something similar in other segments. For China it has the FTSE Xinhua 25 (NYSEARCA:FXI), FTSE China (HK Listed) Index Fund (NASDAQ:FCHI) and the MSCI China Index (NYSEARCA:MCHI). There is a lot of overlap under the hood and the performance has been identical.

On the other side of the coin, iShares has all sorts of unique funds or at least funds that are not identical to their own funds, with examples including iShares New Zealand (NYSEARCA:ENZL) and iShares Small Cap Hong Kong (NYSEARCA:EWSS). At the same time as iShares launched EEML it launched iShares Emerging Market EMEA Index Fund (NASDAQ:EEME) where EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. I think the fund is unique to broad based emerging funds (but maybe someone else has a similar fund?) in that it weighs heavily to South Africa and Russia (those two add up to 73%) and energy is the largest sector at 28%.

iShares is due to come this week with iShares Norway and iShares Finland. Global X already has a Norway ETF (NYSEARCA:NORW) but Finland would be a first and I think that Finland would be a huge beneficiary (after the initial puke down) if the euro were to breakup.

Obviously iShares has the scale to create more funds even if there is little chance that they will gain traction or offer much that is new (the essentially perfect correlation of the three China funds can't be a surprise to anyone at iShares). It is more difficult for smaller ETF providers to mass produce funds.

I think part of the equation here is that iShares can create a lot of funds such that it might simply be trying to crowd out the smaller companies. This is of course what competition is often about but as users of ETFs we should hope that smaller competitors survive.