Van Eck Global launched Market Vectors China A-Shares ETF (PEK) yesterday (October 14, 2010). Today, it is trading at more than a 14% premium to its net asset value. Is PEK truly an ETF, or is it more like a closed–end fund?

PEK claims to be the only US-listed ETF designed to give investors exposure to the China A-Shares market, which has historically been limited to domestic investors in China and Qualified Foreign Institutional Investors. However, PEK will not be investing directly in those A-Shares. Instead, it will seek to track the CSI 300 Index by investing in swaps and other types of derivatives. This approach is also used by other A-Shares ETFs listed in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore.

The PEK summary page shows the fund’s expense ratio will be capped at 0.72% and the swap counter-party exposure is currently 100% with Credit Suisse. This page also provides the premium/discount calculation, which was a 12.3% premium as of the close of the first day of trading (10/14/10).

Data on the underlying index can be found in the PEK fact sheet (pdf), which lists the sector breakdown as Financials 34.2%, Industrials 17.0%, Materials 14.8%, Consumer Discretionary 9.2%, Energy 7.6%, Consumer Staples 6.3%, Health Care 3.9%, Utilities 3.5%, Telecommunications 1.8%, and Technology 1.6%.

The CSI 300 is a free-float market capitalization index of A-Shares listed on the Shenzen or Shanghai exchanges. The largest constituents currently consist of Ping An Insurance Company of China 3.6%, China Merchants Bank 3.3%, Bank of Communications 2.5%, China Minsheng Banking 2.3%, and Industrial Bank 2.0%.

Van Eck typically provides additional background and information for its new ETFs, and the launch of PEK is no exception. See the Investment Case for China A-Shares (pdf).

The prospectus (pdf) lists many limitations the fund has regarding access to A-Shares and/or swaps based on those shares. There is an indication that the fund could trade at significant premiums due to unavailability of additional swaps or if the fund uses swaps on other funds that are trading at premiums. It would seem unlikely that the fund would be unable to obtain any needed swaps during its first two days of trading, so the reason for the substantial premium is unanswered at this time.

Creations and redemptions are handled in cash. It would seem that Authorized Participants would be lining up to exchange their cash (at N.A.V.) for additional shares unless share creation has been suspended for some reason. If that is the case, then PEK is currently a closed-end fund even though it is officially registered as an ETF.

As of this writing, PEK is trading at $48.12 while its N.A.V. (PEK.IV) indicates a value of just $42.168 per share. Investors need to be aware that the 14.1% premium could disappear instantaneously, creating the potential for a loss in excess of 12%.

Disclosure covering writer, editor, and publisher: No positions in any of the securities mentioned. No positions in any of the companies or ETF sponsors mentioned. No income, revenue, or other compensation (either directly or indirectly) received from, or on behalf of, any of the companies or ETF sponsors mentioned.