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The UBS ETF MSCI World UCITS ETF provides exposure to many of the largest publicly-traded companies in the developed world. It is best used as a core building block for investors who want to gain developed equity exposure through one fund rather than build a geographically- and/or sector-diversified equity portfolio. Although the underlying MSCI World Index has a broad geographic scope, it is heavily concentrated in the US.
The MSCI World Index is made up of global companies. Still, investors seeking exposure to the global- rather than just developed- equity market should consider pairing this ETF with some form of emerging markets equity exposure which would provide portfolio diversification.
This ETF pays dividends on a semi-annual basis and therefore may suit income-seeking investors.
Valuations around the world have improved significantly since the 2008 financial crisis. The US- by far the ETF’s largest country exposure- has experienced a steady economic recovery over the last few years. With the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching their all-time highs in Q1 2015, the financial market nosedive in 2008 seems like a distant memory.
The US is in the midst of its longest— and slowest— economic expansionary period since World War II. And the expansion doesn’t show signs of stopping in the short-term, with unemployment staying comfortably under the FOMC’s 6.5% target, and inflation remaining below the Fed’s 2% target.
By contrast, the Eurozone recovery, though improving, remains fragile, with inconsistent economic performance across the continent. Domestic demand is still constrained by lack of available credit and high unemployment. Nevertheless, the weak euro and the fall of commodity prices – particularly energy - has alleviated some fears about Europe’s economic prospects, providing support both to consumers and exporters.
In order to reflate the economy and address the rising risks of a deflationary spiral, the European Central Bank (ECB) embarked on full-fledged Quantitative Easing (QE) in January 2015. The ECB’s combined actions, namely QE, comprehensive liquidity provision and the commitment to keep interest rates at zero for a prolonged period, are primarily aimed at kick-starting bank lending to SMEs and boosting domestic demand.
Across the channel, the UK has experienced a firm recovery. Strong domestic demand has helped support the UK’s economic expansion while the Bank of England has retained an ultra-loose monetary policy stance. Interest rates have remained at a record low of 0.5% since March 2009, although financial markets are already positioned for an increase in rates in late 2015 or early 2016. The consensus is that the UK economy should continue to grow at a healthy pace.
Meanwhile, the economic outlook for Japan remains considerably uncertain. Abenomics, Prime Minister Abe’s unorthodox monetary policy since late 2012, has reined in deflation and reignited consumer confidence and spending. But Abe postponed the second consumption tax hike until October 2015 due to fears it might further hurt the economy’s nascent recovery, as the first tax hike in April 2014 pushed the country into recession.
The MSCI World Net Total Return Index is a free-float market capitalisation-weighted index covering 23 developed countries around the world. The index consists of about 1,600 large- and mid-cap stocks, and covers approximately 85% of the total free float of the component markets. The index is reviewed quarterly, with size cut-offs recalculated semi-annually. The universe is initially screened for liquidity, as measured by the value and frequency of trading. The median constituent has a market capitalisation of $8.7 billion. The index is heavily tilted towards the US, whose weighting of 52-56% is more than five times larger than the next highest representatives, Japan and the UK, with weights of 7-10% each. The eurozone countries make up 15-19% of the total weighting. On a sector basis, the index is broadly diversified. The top weight is financials, which makes up 18-22% of the total, followed by information technology, consumer discretionary and health care at 11-13% each. There is very little portfolio concentration, with generally no more than 10% of the index within its top 10 names. The top individual position is Apple, with a 1-3% weight, followed by Microsoft and General Electric (each less than 1%).
The ETF uses an optimised sampling technique to try to capture the performance of the MSCI World Net Total Return index, owning a physical basket of securities designed to match the risk-return characteristics of the underlying index but not necessarily the exact stocks in the exact weights. The fund engages in securities lending and may lend up to 50% of its assets to improve the fund’s tracking performance. To minimise counterparty risk, UBS restricts securities lending to pre-defined counterparties, holds collateral in a ring-fenced third-party account with its lending agent State Street Bank, and marks the collateral's value to market daily. Lending operations are hedged by taking high quality collateral (e.g. equities listed on globally-recognised indices) greater than the loan value. The level of overcollateralization is set at 105% for stocks. Cash is not accepted as collateral. In the 12 months through the end of April 2015, an average of 7.85% of the fund’s assets was out on loan, adding 0.03% of net revenue to the fund. The maximum the fund lent out at any given time over the last year was 9.68%. Gross lending revenue is split as follows: 60% to the ETF, 40% to UBS/State Street Bank, with the latter covering all associated operational costs. UBS discloses daily on its website all key information pertaining to its securities lending programme, including current loan levels (% of NAV) per ETF, one-year rolling average, maximum on-loan values and collateral value (% of loan). Routine cash stock dividends are re-invested according to index rules using an ‘overdraft’ facility available from the custodian, State Street Bank. Similar to a credit line, State Street Bank lends the ETF cash to reinvest any receivable dividends on the ex-date. Once the dividend is paid to the underlying stocks, the ETF returns the borrowed cash to State Street Bank. This practice helps reduce tracking error.
The fund has a total expense ratio of 0.30%, which is comparable relative to other funds offering similar exposure. The range for the tracking difference since 2012 suggests that annual holding costs may vary significantly from year to year. Additional costs to investors associated with trading the ETF include bid-ask spreads and brokerage fees.
There are a number of ETF choices that provide broad exposure to global equities. Providers offering ETFs that track the MSCI World Index include iShares, Source, Lyxor, db x-trackers, HSBC, ComStage and Amundi. The iShares Core MSCI World ETF charges the lowest fees, with a TER of 0.20%.