Australia ETFs: 9 Ways To Play

by on July 31, 2012

As the economies of the Europe, the United States and Japan have struggled to overcome a variety of challenges in recent years, investors have come to question the conventional wisdom that developed markets offer greater stability than their emerging counterparts. As supposedly advanced economies have sputtered, many have tilted their portfolios away from North America and Western Europe, instead seeking out countries that maintain more long-term growth potential.

Australia fits that description in the mind of some investors, boasting an impressive reserve of natural resources, strong relations with emerging Asian economic powerhouses and relatively stable fiscal footing that puts it in better shape than many of its developed colleagues. For those looking to beef up on Australia exposure, there are plenty of ETF choices on the table; below we highlight the various options for investors looking to gain exposure to the promising economy Down Under [sign up for the free ETFdb newsletter].

1. MSCI Australia Index Fund (EWA)

This ETF is the most popular option for establishing exposure to Australia, with more than $2 billion in assets and an average daily volume of more than two million shares. The EWA portfolio consists of the largest Australian-listed stocks, including big weightings afforded to mining giant BHP Billiton (13%) and financial behemoth Commonwealth Bank of Australia (10%). In total EWA has about 70 individual holdings, though the ten largest of those make up about 60% of total holdings. 

Though Australia is known for its abundance of natural resources, this ETF’s largest sector weighting is actually to financials. That’s a fairly common characteristic of international ETFs linked to cap-weighted indexes, since banks tend to be the largest corporations in many markets.  

2. WisdomTree Australia Dividend Index Fund (AUSE)

This ETF is linked to a dividend-weighted index, giving investors an option for tapping into Australia with a focus on high-yielding stocks. The underlying WisdomTree Australia Dividend Index has a dividend yield of about 6.8%, highlighting the impressive current return opportunity available through AUSE. 

Dividend-focused indexes tend to have significant tilts towards certain sectors of the market, in some cases dramatically overweighting telecoms, utilities and financials. AUSE holds the ten largest qualifying companies from each sector, giving this portfolio a relatively balanced composition from a sector standpoint. 

3. IQ Australia Small Cap ETF (KROO)

For investors looking to gain better pure play exposure to the Australian economy, small cap ETFs may be an interesting option. Whereas funds such as EWA are generally dominated by multi-national firms that derive sales from several international markets, small cap stocks tend to be more dependent on local consumption to drive growth. Moreover, small cap ETFs tend to have a heavier allocation to the sectors that dominate the local economy, a feature that is evident in KROO. 

This ETF allocates about 35% of its portfolio to basic materials stocks, giving it a tilt towards the commodity-intensive segment of the Australian economy. For those looking to bet on Australia’s resource dominance, that might be an appealing attribute. 

4. MSCI Australia Small Cap Index Fund (EWAS)

EWAS is the other option for investors looking to invest in small cap Australian stocks, maintaining an investment objective that is generally similar to EWAS. Comparing these two ETFs side by side shows a few distinguishing factors, however. EWAS has a deeper portfolio, including almost twice as many individual stocks as KROO. The allocation to materials stocks is meaningfully lower than the IndexIQ fund. EWAS gets the edge in expenses, charging about 10 basis points less than KROO annnually. 

5. Australia AlphaDEX Fund (FAUS)

This ETF is part of the suite of AlphaDEX funds from First Trust that fall somewhere in between cap-weighted indexing and active management. Using a proprietary methodology, the underlying index is designed to select the Australian stocks that are poised to experience the greatest capital appreciation. In exchange for that opportunity to capture alpha, investors can expect to pay a bit more; FAUS has an expense ratio of 0.8%. 

One advantage of the AlphaDEX methodology, however, is a more balanced portfolio compared to top-heavy funds such as EWA. The top ten holdings make up about 40% of assets, and the overall allocation to financials is much lower than other Australia ETFs. 

6. WisdomTree Australia & New Zealand Debt Fund (AUNZ)

For investors looking to access debt of Australia and neighboring New Zealand, AUNZ is one of a pair of options. This actively-managed ETF holds primarily Australian debt, though New Zealand securities are found in the portfolio as well. It’s important to note that the component bonds are denominated in the local currencies of these countries, meaning that AUNZ offers an opportunity to benefit from appreciation of the Aussie dollar. 

Australia has interest rates considerably higher than many developed markets, which can lead to a moderately attractive yield in this fund. AUNZ has a 30-day SEC yield of about 2.7% and an average yield to maturity of about 3.1%. 

7. PIMCO Australia Bond Index Fund (AUD)

This ETF represents the other opportunity to play Australian debt markets. Unlike AUNZ, this PIMCO fund is index-based, seeking to replicate the BofA Merrill Lynch Diversified Australia Bond Index. The underlying portfolio consists of both corporate and sovereign debt denominated in Australian dollars. AUD has a 30-day SEC yield of about 2.8%, and an estimated yield to maturity of about 3.4%. 

Similar to AUNZ, this ETF charges an annual expense ratio of 0.45%.

8. CurrencyShares Australian Dollar Trust (FXA)

For investors looking simply to bet on the Aussie dollar relative to the U.S. currency, FXA offers a way to achieve exposure to this exchange rate. FXA, a grantor trust that earns interest on deposited Australian dollars, has turned in some very impressive performances over the past few years; this ETF has added about 40% over the past three years, a remarkable climb for a currency product. 

9. ProShares Ultra Australian Dollar (GDAY) and UltraShort Australian Dollar (CROC)

For investors with a shorter term time horizon looking to bet on swings in the AUD/USD exchange rate, this pair of recently launched funds from ProShares could be intriguing. GDAY and CROC offer 2x and -2x daily leveraged exposure to this exchange rate, allowing investors to bet on the movement of the Aussie dollar in either direction. 

Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.