Sunday, August 22, 1999

WEBS makes investment much easier

By Eric Hicks -- Investing

Pic of Hicks WEBS, or World Equity Benchmark Shares, a relatively new synthetic investment, is becoming a popular way for many institutional investors to participate in foreign investments within their managed portfolios.

Individual investors have also begun to recognize WEBS as an easy way to participate in foreign-equity exposure.

WEBS are single securities representing an investment in a portfolio of ordinary shares that seeks to reproduce a specific country index. The portfolios are managed by Barclays Global Fund Advisors based upon - and here's a mouth full -MSCI EAFE (Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe Australia Far East) country indexes. The securities trade like shares on the American Stock Exchange.

WEBS enable investors to gain exposure to selected international equity markets while seeking to to provide performance results that track the price and yields of the specific country index. WEBS do not attempt to outperform an international market through stock selection. Instead, they try to mirror the performance of a particular MSCI EAFE country index.

There are 17 countries represented by WEBS.

Investors might be attracted to WEBS because they provide immediate and easy access to international markets in a single transaction. They are not closed-end mutual funds, neither are they ADRs ( American depository receipts) or derivatives. They offer a relatively low- cost, passive approach to investing in foreign markets. Liquidity is provided through continuous trading on the AMEX during regular trading hours, like any other stock traded on that exchange. For those more sophisticated investors, WEBS can also be sold short.

As with most foreign holdings, WEBS do expose investors to the normal risks associated with foreign currencies and foreign politics.

Investors can buy WEBS in the usual fashion on the AMEX in US dollars. Prices range from just under $10 to $22 US, depending upon which country one chooses, and the shares trade in board lots of 100. Dividends and capital-gain distributions are paid at least annually and are distributed in US dollars.

Canadian investors are subject to a withholding tax up to 30 per cent in some cases. Pursuant to the relevant Canada/US tax treaty, a dividend tax credit will be granted to the investor in an amount resembling the withholding tax paid to U.S. authorities.

Eric Hicks is an investment advisor and the branch manager of the Halifax office of Levesque Securities Inc. Material in this column is for information only and does not necessarily represent the views of Levesque Securities Inc.

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