VWO: Good Diversification At A Low Cost

| About: Vanguard FTSE (VWO)
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The (weighted) average price to earnings ratio of VWO is below the S&P 500.

The dividend yield of VWO is 2.90%, which is above that of S&P 500 proxy SPY.

VWO provides owners with diversification of over 3600 companies based in emerging market economies.

I have made no secret of the fact that we are in the process of transitioning our portfolio allocation such that our portfolio's core will be comprised of mostly passive index investments. We feel there are several advantages to this approach, but the biggest reasons for the transition are:

  1. Greater diversification while achieving tremendous time savings

  2. I don't believe there are enough Great/Amazing companies to build a portfolio around

Our intention is adjust the core of our portfolio to consist of relatively non-correlated assets. With those parameters, we can hold this passive index core year in and year out and only have to rebalance periodically. In the past I have talked about the various ETFs we intend to own. Vanguard's FTSE Emerging Market's ETF (NYSEARCA:VWO) is one of them, and I profile it below.

Emerging market equity investments have struggled over the past few years. Below you can see how VWO has performed over the past 5 years, compared with the S&P 500 (using SPY as a proxy). While the bull market in US equity investments has surged higher, an investment in Vanguard's FTSE Emerging Market ETF would have lost about 28% of its principal (excluding dividends).

The tremendous disparity in these returns has scared some investors out of investing in emerging markets, but this is the wrong call for our portfolio. Truth be told, I am not saying that every investor should have an allocation to emerging market equities. I won't pretend to know YOUR personal hopes, goals, etc. If, however, you have chosen to include emerging markets as part of the plan for your portfolio, you must be happy with the poor performance of emerging market equities over the past few years. I know I am. Our most recent purchase of VWO shares was at $28.37 per share, but we made earlier purchases at higher levels. We, my wife and I, believe that exposure to emerging markets is an important part of our portfolio, and we have a great deal more money we would like to allocate to this asset class. Lower prices means that we get more for our investment dollar, but more importantly it also means that we are buying more of profits of the underlying businesses with the same investment.

So what do you get when you invest in Vanguard's FTSE Emerging Market's ETF? Well for starters, you gain exposure to more than 3600 stocks scattered throughout emerging market economies. Below is a table from Vanguard's website of the countries with the largest exposure to VWO. The exposure is weighted more heavily toward Chinese companies than I would prefer, but on the whole this fund provides excellent exposure to quite a few different economies. Additionally, being a Vanguard ETF, the fund's expense ratio is very low at 0.15% annually. On their website, Vanguard claims this is lower than 90% of the fund's competitors. The less money an investor shells out in fees, the more of the investment return that investor makes. Over time, those savings compound every year.

Below is a table listing the 10 largest holdings in the ETF. Many of the company names are probably recognizable to you. Many of these companies are considered the "blue chips" of their respective countries. These businesses are some of the largest and best known companies in these markets. It is important for me to know my circle of competence, and I am aware that I do not understand emerging market businesses as well as I do American companies. The transparency of company filings and foreign accounting practices generally keep me from investing in individual companies that are based in emerging market economies. Using a vehicle like Vanguard's FTSE Emerging Markets ETF allows me to gain my desired exposure, while also diversifying away the risk that a few individual companies are fraudulent and corrupt.

Clearly these companies are found across the spectrum of industries. A breakdown of VWO's sector representation can be found below. I am pleased with this diversification because it spreads the risk of industry specific downturns across all industries. It's very convenient to have exposure to such a range of economies, industries, and companies from a single emerging market index ETF.

As discussed earlier, the stocks of many emerging market companies have taken a drubbing over the past few years. According to Vanguard, the average price to earnings ratio of the companies found within Vanguard's FTSE Emerging Markets ETF is 14.8 and the ETF pays out a dividend yield of 2.9%. Those both compare favorably to the S&P 500's (with SPY as a proxy) price to earnings ratio of 16.77 and dividend yield of 2.17%. Most importantly, we are gaining exposure to economies that are growing, and demographic trends ensure these economies will make up a larger portion of global GDP in the future.

Disclosure: Long Vanguard's VWO ETF. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a recommendation for anyone to buy, sell, or hold any equities. I am not a financial professional. The information above is provided by Vanguard.com and Yahoo Finance.

Disclosure: I am/we are long VWO.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.