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As exchange-traded funds continue to win favor with investors, the number of available offerings in this sector has exploded. According to Morningstar data, there are nearly 1,300 exchange-traded funds on the market today, 187 of which were introduced just this year. And while you can safely pass by the vast majority of these funds, there are a few that stand out as worthy of your investment dollars.
If I had to give the thumbs-up to just one exchange-traded fund of the year so far, it would go to Vanguard Total International Stock Index ETF (NYSE: VXUS ) . This fund tracks the performance of the MSCI All Country World Ex-U.S. Investable Market Index, which measures equity performance in developed and emerging nations around the globe. What you're getting here is one-stop shopping for the foreign world; this fund does it all outside U.S. borders. This fund is a great choice for investors who want broad, international exposure at one of the cheapest prices around. Pretty much all foreign markets are represented here, so you know you won't be leaving anybody important out.
And unlike many new ETFs that track newly designed and often somewhat obscure benchmarks, this fund has some history behind it. The index mutual fund version of the ETF goes back to 1996 and ranks in the top 15% of all foreign large-cap blend funds, including actively managed funds, over the past decade. With a low 0.20% price tag and an all-inclusive foreign focus, this fund is one of the best new ETF choices around.
Two more contenders
Two other worthwhile new-to-the-market funds come from the Schwab family of funds. In case you haven't noticed, Schwab has been engaging in a bit of a price war with ETF industry leaders Vanguard, State Street, and iShares (which BlackRock acquired last year). Their latest two offerings are no exception.
The Schwab U.S. Mid-Cap ETF (NYSE: SCHM ) tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Mid-Cap Total Stock Market Index and currently holds nearly 500 stocks. The price of admission here is just 0.13% a year, putting it in direct competition with other solid and popular mid-cap ETFs such as the iShares S&P Mid Cap 400 ETF (NYSE: IJH ) and the SPDR S&P MidCap 400 ETF (NYSE: MDY ) , with their expense ratios of 0.22% and 0.25%, respectively. If you want broad mid-cap exposure at a rock-bottom price, Schwab U.S. Mid-Cap ETF is a good option.
Likewise, the Schwab U.S. REIT ETF (NYSE: SCHH ) is another well-diversified, low-cost (0.13%) alternative to pricier real estate funds such as the SPDR Dow Jones REIT (NYSE: RWR ) , which clocks in at 0.25%. While the Vanguard REIT Index ETF (NYSE: VNQ ) still takes the cake for the lowest-cost ETF in this field at 0.12%, the Schwab ETF could end up stealing some market share away from Vanguard, especially if down the road Schwab decides to undercut the competition by lowering the fund's price.
Another intriguing newcomer to the ETF field is the SPDR S&P Emerging Markets Dividend ETF (NYSE: EDIV ) . This fund invests in roughly 100 of the highest-yielding stocks found in emerging nations around the world. With its 0.59% price tag, this certainly isn't one of the cheapest ETFs around, but it does tap into a corner of the market that has considerable long-term potential. Right now, Brazil and Taiwan make up the largest country allocations in this fund, with 25% and 20% of assets, respectively. You should expect a fair amount of volatility here, but over the long run, this fund could be tapping into a sweet spot that few global investors have direct exposure to.
Likewise, on the basis on cost alone, the Focus Morningstar US Market ETF (NYSE: FMU ) could be an interesting prospect. The fund charges just 0.05% in annual expenses, making it the single most inexpensive ETF on the market. This fund tracks the Morningstar U.S. Market Index, which measures the performance of domestic large-, mid-, and small-cap companies. The fund is probably meant to be a competitor to Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (NYSE: VTI ) , one of my favorite exchange-traded funds. For now, I'd recommend sticking with the Vanguard fund, but the Morningstar fund could prove to be an able competitor once it achieves some mass in the market.
Ultimately, investors should be very cautious about new exchange-traded funds coming on to the market. Most are expensive and either focused on a thin slice of the market or employ significant leverage to boost returns. However, there are a few new funds that take a broader stance on the market and make an effort to keep fees low -- and these are the ETFs that should earn a second look from investors.