New products continue to emerge from the ETF IPO pipeline, albeit far more slowly than in the halcyon days of 2007-2008. Today brought iShares S&P Emerging Markets Infrastructure Index Fund (EMIF). Volume today was light, but I suspect iShares has enough marketing muscle to keep EMIF off the ETF Deathwatch list.
The new fund focuses on a niche that was red-hot for a couple of years before correcting sharply. Emerging economies like China are racing to join the modern world, which means they need to build highways, airports, bridges, power grids, and the other structures that we in the U.S. often take for granted. Building all these things from the ground up is neither easy nor cheap. Many companies are taking full advantage of the opportunity.
The index that EMIF follows is not as broad as you might suspect, however. Not surprisingly, China represents about one-third of assets. Brazil, Argentina, and South Korea account for another third. Add in Malaysia, Chile and the Czech Republic, and about 90% of the holdings are from just seven countries.
The portfolio is very compact in terms of companies, as well. There are only 25 holdings, and the top six are more than 40% of assets. Oddly, no U.S. companies are represented though many are involved in this industry.
EMIF is superficially similar to PowerShares Emerging Markets Infrastructure Portfolio (PXR), but PXR is more diversified with some 60 holdings, the largest of which is only about 5% of assets. EMIF has significantly more company risk that PXR, but the concentration could also be an advantage if some of the holdings outperform the rest of sector.
Given that PXR has been in operation since October 2008, iShares does not have first mover advantage in this niche. On the other hand, PXR has assets of less than $50 million, so the niche is apparently not very big. Interest could grow if emerging markets continue their big comeback. Infrastructure investors now have another choice, which is always a good thing.