Single-Stock ETF Craze Targets Once Inaccessible Non-US Shares

(Bloomberg) — A set of exchange-traded funds aims to give US investors exposure to single foreign stocks that aren’t easily accessible, the latest innovation in the increasingly saturated $7 trillion ETF industry.

Roundhill Financial Inc. is planning the TRAX Samsung Shares and TRAX Saudi Aramco Shares ETFs to correspond with the performance of Samsung Electronics Co. and Saudi Aramco, according to a Friday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both companies lack American depository receipts trading on US exchanges, currently making them difficult for stateside investors to access without global brokerage and clearing relationships.

“This might be an easier way to get exposure,” said Amrita Nandakumar, president of Vident Investment Advisory, in an interview. “Issuers are going to be serving the market and coming up with those names that they think investors are going to find interesting.”

ETF issuers have rushed to introduce single-security funds after the first ones debuted in the US last month. Many of the products that have begun trading offer leveraged or inverse exposure to the daily performance of single US equities. Roundhill’s planned ETFs are different in that they would offer one-to-one exposure to overseas companies, but they’re an example of one of many permutations of the single-security ETF that issuers now see possible.

Roundhill’s products would invest in swaps and other financial instruments. It may also invest in the underlying stock, according to the filing.

“This is potentially a very clever way to offer exposure in well-known foreign companies to US investors,” said Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers. But it’s not clear if the planned funds would pass muster with the SEC — foreign companies that don’t offer American depository receipts don’t need to follow US reporting standards, so the planned products appear to offer a work-around to US listing rules, he said.

If the SEC doesn’t block the products from listing, that “would open a Pandora’s Box,” Sosnick said, paving the way for ETFs that track other foreign securities with high investor interest, like Chinese stocks that are being delisted in the US.

The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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