Sunday, April 9, 2017

Do XAW, VXC Represent Global Stock Market ?

Do you know what proportion of the global stock assets are represented by US markets? those in Canada? Europe? China? A surprising number of investors have either vague or out of date answers. This post will provide some data on the global equity space, along with reflections on how that might inform your investing choices.

While most investors exercise some degree of home country bias,  for a variety of good reasons, it makes sense to invest globally. In this posting I propose a simple idea: why not invest in different markets according to the size of those markets?

Some Data

The size of economies is somewhat different from the size of equity markets in those countries, and it is a good question whether we should use stock market or economy size. I will work with stock market valuations in this post.

There are about 60 stock markets globally, and their valuations are shown in a really nice data visualization here. You can get the raw data with the most recent statistics here from the World Federation of Exchanges.

Kim Iskyan wrote an article for Asia Wealth Investing Daily in November, 2016 that provides statistics (taken from Bloomberg) on the sizes and growths of different national stock markets, with a look at the top ten. You can read his report here courtesy of Stansberry Churchouse Research.

Not surprisingly the US stock market is the largest by a significant factor, at 36.3% of the total.   China was second, at 10.1%, followed by Japan at 7.9%, Hong Kong at 6.3% and UK at 4.6%. Canada, followed by France, Germany,  India and Switzerland complete the top ten.

 If we accept the premise of investing globally in proportion to equity assets, about 36% of your equity investments should be in the US, 10% in China (with another 6.5% in Hong Kong),  8% in Japan, about 3% in Canada.

The World It Is A Changing

The article cited earlier points out that a fairly dramatic change in the relative capitalizations of different markets is taking place.  For example, from October 2003 to 2016, the US stock market while increasing in an absolute sense, dropped as a fraction of global stock assets  from 45.2% to 36.3%. The big increases were all in Asia, with China going from 1.5% in 2003 to 10.1% in 2016, Hong Kong from 3.0% to 6.3%,  and India from 0.8% to 2.6%. Stock markets in Europe and Japan all fell as a global percentage. Interestingly the Canadian market, with a slight rise from 2.6% to 2.9%, was the only top 10 'developed' market to show an increase.

 Do XAW and VXC Represent World?

So how would you build an ETF portfolio consisting only of TSX listed ETFs that faithfully represented the entire global equity market. While specialized ETFs representing almost any market now exist, and you could build an ETF portfolio to almost exactly represent the world's equity markets, the MER would be high for so the many specialized products.

Most use ETF products like XAW from iShares or VXC from Vanguard Canada to represent most of the world.  These track different indices, with XAW tracking the MSCI while VXC tracks the FTSE global index.

Both XAW and VXC have excess weight on the US equity market, with XAW at about 54% and VXC at almost 56%, whereas the actual size of the equity markets suggest that only about 36% should be in US equities. Both under represent  emerging markets, with a total emerging market share of 11.5% in XAW and 7.8% in VXC currently. Note that VXC does not include any Canadian equity at all, so you should include at least 3% of your investments in a broad Canadian ETF such as VCN or XIC.

A simple way to make your global equity ETFs more representative of the entire world is to include about 20% of your holdings in XEC or VEE emerging market ETF (even though there are emerging holdings already in the XAW and VXC).  This would reduce the US holdings to about 44%, neareer to the 36.1% of the global equity assets, and similarly for other developed markets.

Another option would be to make up your global holdings using VEF (developed markets except the US, but including Canada), VUN (or some other widely represented US holdings) and XEC (or VEE) for the emerging markets component.  In this way you can adjust your US, other developed and emerging market holdings to the exact amounts you desire. If  Scotia iTRADE is your discount broker, VEF and XEC are both commission free to buy and sell, making this option even more attractive.  If you want to include China as a separate component, ZCH could be used, although remember you do have China represented in XEC or VEE. Also, the number of individual stocks within ZCH is limited.  If you want to add some Canadian home market bias (see below), XIC or VCN (or many others) could be added.

But I Want to Minimize Risk!

While it is natural to look backwards, as the excellent book The 3 Simple Rules if Investing reminds us: only look forward. It is true that volatility has in the past been greater in emerging markets. However, with high developed market equity valuations, unusually low interest rates, and political uncertainty in several developed economies, it can legitimately be asked whether the more governmentally controlled 'emerging'  economies such as China may offer lower future volatility.

Just as passive investors are urged to own all (or really a major part) of a domestic market,  it could be argued that the same principle would argue to hold most of the world equity assets proportionately in a global equity portfolio. 

Why Home Bias?

I'm sure they have been written, but I can't recall reading an investment commentary on the virtue, or lack thereof, of home bias.  This is a topic for a future column, but I considered reasons that you would want to show some home bias in your investments.
  • Your income needs are related to the inflation rate in your home economy, so significant Canadian holdings make sense.
  • As we argued in a post about holding individual stocks, it makes sense to invest in what you best understand, and that for most is the Canadian market.
  • While government intervention is only one of many factors, it does influence the rewards and risks of different types of investments. You will understand the political climate of your own country best.
Only you can decide what amount of home bias you want to have in your investments.  It probably makes sense to have less home bias in your accumulation phase than in retirement when you are withdrawing regularly from your funds.

Concluding Thoughts

Of course there are good reasons to not weight investments only according to the relative size of that countries equity assets.  For example, risk will vary in different countries. Also, average valuations, as expressed by P/E or other measures, may be significantly different in different regions.  Also, we know the North American stock market much better, and that familiarity might help us make better choices.

You should expect more than a rule of thumb about what fraction to be held in Canada, US and internationally based on the situation of ten years ago.  Make sure that your financial advisor discusses international holdings, and in particular emerging economies, in a current, evidence based fashion. If you do decide to have extra North American assets, make sure that it is a deliberate choice.

The international ETF space continues to change, so make sure to investigate the holdings of each ETF with current data before you make any decisions. We will be reviewing emerging market ETFs in a future post.


This posting is intended for education only and should not be considered investment advice. The reader is responsible for their own financial decisions.  The writer is not a financial planner or investment advisor, and reading this column should not be interpreted as obtaining individual financial planning or investment advice. For major financial decisions it is always wise to consult skilled professionals. While an effort has been made to be accurate, any statements of fact should be independently checked if important to the reader.

Disclosure:  The author of this column holds the following ETFs mentioned in this article in one or more account I manage: XEC, XIC, VCN, VEF and VXC.  I use Scotia iTRADE discount brokerage services.  No compensation by any company has been offered, requested or received for writing this column.




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