Since the summertime lows, a number of themes have gained enormous traction. U.S. real estate is benefiting from ultra-low mortgage rates, limited supply and remarkable demand from overseas buyers.
Chinese leadership continues to provide just enough government support to maintain economic targets. And the European Central Bank is having success at containing its sovereign debt woes, in spite of the region's deepening recession.
Investors that engaged the trends early have profited immensely from price appreciation in certain ETFs. Since June, for example, the iShares DJ Home Construction Fund has had little difficulty soaring skyward on the notion that a genuine real estate renaissance is in progress.
However, if fiscal cliff concerns elevate as 2012 draws to a close, you may see investors with large capital gains in the sector take profits. Apple shareholders have witnessed this activity for more than a month.
It follows that the price of iShares DJ Home Construction E.T.F. may revert to its mean, or 200-day exponential moving average. That's close to 14 per cent drop from present levels. Moreover, we typically think of assets that are 10 per cent above critical trend lines as being "overbought."
None of these circumstances alter the big-picture theme that real estate may finally be getting out of the dog house. Are there ETF alternatives, then, for profiting from increases in home construction?
I suggest that investors intrigued by property prospects look at global timber companies. Guggenheim Global Timber or iShares Global Timber and Forestry both have strong weightings in a personal REIT favorite, Plum Creek Timber, as well as worldwide forest products manufacturer, Weyerhaeuser. That said, iShares Global Timber and Forestry has a lower expense ratio (0.48 per cent) than CUT (0.65 per cent); WOOD is currently 8.5 per cent above its 200-day EMA.
An unflappable ETF throughout most of 2012 has been iShares MSCI Philippines. Its year-to-date success is partially attributable to 5 per cent appreciation in the country's currency as well as the country's enviable debt-to-GDP ratio of 50 per cent. Moreover, credit agencies from S&P to Moody's upgraded the Philippines' sovereign bonds in the summer. Perhaps most importantly, trade with China has skyrocketed, expected to hit $30-billion by year-end.
On the other hand, the herd mentality has pushed EPHE to all-time highs and nearly 16 per cent above a critical moving average. It's hard to imagine a scenario where EPHE does not experience a near-term 10 per cent pullback.
In my estimation, there are better values in funds like iShares MSCI Singapore and iShares MSCI Malaysia. Both have more attractive price-to-earnings ratios, significantly better annual yields (3.6 per cent) and vibrant trade relations throughout the Asia Pacific region. Additionally, neither EWM nor EWS are technically "overbought."
There's a feeling by some of the investment community that the European Monetary Union may finally be getting itself out of its three-year nightmare. This has benefited some of the more financially responsible members of the alliance such as Germany and Austria. German stocks have recently hit four-year highs, while iShares Austria has amassed a staggering 33 per cent since its late July bottom. It also rests in overbought territory – more than 11 per cent above its trend line.
I might be confident that a number of European multinationals – SAP, Sanofi, Louis Vuitton – can ultimately thrive. On the other hand, the strong possibility of sharp declines in the euro lead me to a dollar-hedged alternative.
Enter WisdomTree Europe Hedged Equity. Not only does it hedge against potential declines in the euro, it provides diversification across leading corporations throughout Europe. Equally beneficial, HEDJ has its greatest exposure in consumer staples and consumer discretionary, where names like Bayer, Unilever and Anheuser-Busch Inbev have an impressive worldwide footprint.