ETF investors have long clamoured for Currency unhedged funds traded on the TSX for reasons outlined here, here and here. While it is true that Canadian investors can get direct access to foreign stocks through a long list of ETFs that trade in the US exchanges, these funds have one drawback that cannot be overcome — US-listed ETFs are considered in situ property and could be subject to US Estate Taxes. Granted, US Estate Taxes have become less problematic for most Canadian investors since the passing of last-minute legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. Essentially, Canadians with less than $5 million (US) in total assets will be able to avoid US Estate taxes entirely.
Still, Canadian-listed ETFs that do not hedge currency will be valuable for investors who do not want to look for cheaper methods of converting Canadian dollars into US dollars and who do not want to pay the usurious foreign exchange fees charged by most discount brokers. Last year, Vanguard Canada introduced the S&P 500 Index ETF (TSX: VFV, MER 0.18 percent), a fund that tracks the S&P 500 index. Now, iShares has launched three new ETFs that started trading on the TSX yesterday. They are:
iShares S&P 500 Index ETF (XUS): Track the S&P 500 index, a market-cap weighted index of 500 large US corporations. MER is 0.14 percent. Note that the ETF is essentially a wrapper around the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV) that trades on the NYSE Arca exchange.
iShares MSCI EAFE Index ETF (XEF): Track the MSCI EAFE index, a market-cap weighted index that tracks stocks from Europe, Australasia and the Far East (essentially an index of developed market stock markets excluding the US and Canada). MER is 0.30 percent. The ETF is a wrapper around the iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF (IEFA).
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (XEC): Track the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, a market-cap weighted index that tracks stock market performance of emerging markets. MER is 0.35 percent. The ETF is a wrapper around the iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (IEMG).
Take-away for Investors
- These ETFs are great news for Canadian investors wanting Developed Markets ex North America and Emerging Markets exposure from securities listed in Canada but do not want currency hedging because the new ETFs are far cheaper than existing alternatives.
- Investors should keep in mind that owning a Canadian-listed ETF that holds foreign securities in their RRSPs means incurring a 15 percent withholding tax hit on dividends. i.e. an investor who holds $1,000 worth of XUS in a RRSP will incur a tax hit of $3 per year compared to holding $1,000 worth of IVV. Note that the withholding tax hit is only for RRSPs and RRIFs.