Pakistan represents an untapped Asian market for U.S. investors. The country's equity market had a bad start to 2016, thanks to the global sell-off and foreign investment outflow primarily from the oil & gas sector.
However, the country is working on a turnaround. Its economy is growing at a decent rate of approximately 4.5% per annum. As per a California software company, NetSol Technologies (NASDAQ:NTWK), the country's 190 million population, with more than 50% being under 25 years of age, could also act as a key catalyst to long-term growth.
In a review of Pakistan's economic program, the IMF positively stated that the country is on a growth trajectory and is expected to benefit from low oil prices and strong investment due to the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The aim of CPEC is to boost Pakistan's infrastructure and its industrial sector.
However, as a caveat, we would like to remind investors that like many other frontier markets, Pakistan is also fraught with political tensions, which might hurt the stock market's potential to outperform at any given time. Additionally, stocks in frontier markets in developing countries generally have smaller market capitalization and lower levels of liquidity than those in large emerging markets. So, investors planning to invest in this market should have a relatively high risk tolerance.
Keeping these points in mind, we highlight the sole ETF tracking Pakistan - the MSCI Pakistan ETF (NYSEARCA:PAK). This ETF looks to track the MSCI All Pakistan Select 25/50 Index, which holds about 37 securities in its portfolio. The fund charges 92 basis points a year. The portfolio is heavy in financials, at 31% of assets, while basic materials (28%) and energy (20%) round off the top three. The top three companies of the fund have almost one-third exposure. The fund has total assets of $5.4 million, with paltry volumes of 3,000 shares. It has gained 6.3% so far this year as of April 29, 2016.
Investors can also consider other ETFs like the Guggenheim Frontier Markets ETF (NYSEARCA:FRN) and the iShares MSCI Frontier 100 Index ETF (NYSEARCA:FM) having significant exposure of 10.2% and 10%, respectively, to Pakistan (see Broad Emerging Market ETFs here).
FRN seeks to match the performance of the BNY Mellon New Frontier DR Index. BNY Mellon defines frontier market countries based on GDP growth, per capita income growth, inflation rate, privatization of infrastructure and social inequalities. With 62 stocks in its basket, the fund has about 43% of assets in the top 10 companies, while financial services has the highest exposure at 42%. With total assets of $38.8 million, it has average volume of 25,000 shares and an expense ratio of 71 basis points. FRN has returned 4.6% so far this year.
FM, holding 107 stocks, is based on the MSCI Frontier Markets 100 Index. The fund has AUM of $16.9 million and trades in average volumes of 388,000. The fund is well diversified, with none of the stocks holding more than 4.7% weight except the top one with 6.3%. Financials dominates in terms of sector exposure, accounting for a whopping 50.2% of total assets. The fund charges an expense ratio of 79 basis points. It has lost 1% in the year-to-date period.