This St. Patrick’s Day is doubly special for the Irish—and investors in iShares MSCI Ireland Capped ETF (EIRL), an investment that captures a bit o’ the Emerald Isle. The ETF outpaces all other Europe ETFs and reflects Ireland’s economic turnaround.
2014 marks the first time in more than three years that Ireland can celebrate the day without a $115.5 billion bailout of its largest banks hanging over its head. And, if the country stays the economic course, it will be the first Eurozone member to go off emergency aid while Portugal, Cyprus and Greece remain reliant.
The second boon worthy of celebration is the resurrection of the Irish whiskey industry. For decades Scotch and American renditions were most popular, but Irish whiskey sales grew by nearly 18% percent in 2013 and 23% the year before that.
Thirty years ago, Irish Distillers Ltd. was the lone distiller in Ireland with two operations. Today there are about 16 whiskey companies in various stages of production, sales, planning and development.
So, it’s only fitting that the 6 million people who live on the island and the Irish-American population—seven times that of Ireland—should toast to the country’s financial independence and economic turnaround with some fine Irish whiskey.
Irish ETF leads in Europe
Since all the positive news coming from Ireland is a boost to EIRL, investors have plenty to celebrate as well. Last year, the ETF finished up 36% and led all Europe ETFs. Irish government bonds also outperformed most others in the Eurozone. EIRL is already up 14% year-to-date, while the S&P 500 is barely in the black.
From the looks of it, EIRL will be heading even higher.
Whiskey isn’t Ireland’s only export leading the charge. Bord Bia, the government-backed Irish Food Board, reports that total food and drink exports jumped 40% to $7 billion in the four years since 2009.
Ireland appears to be back on track to boost these exports to $12 billion by 2020 and another one stemming from the abolishment of EU milk quota restrictions in April 2015.
All of this positivity plus higher employment and a recovering housing market has lead global bank Citi to raise its forecast for the Irish economy this year, now predicting GDP growth of 2.1% and 2.2% for 2015.
EIRL is the perfect way to capture the additional upside Ireland has to offer. It provides a basket of 25 Irish stocks by tracking the MSCI All Ireland Capped Index and has accumulated $162.5 million in assets. It is heavily weighted in material, industrials and consumer staples.
Top holdings reflect Irish companies on the rise
Dublin-based CRH manufactures and supplies building materials primarily in western Europe and North America, including cement, aggregates, ready-mixed concrete, asphalt/bitumen, and agricultural and chemical lime. The company is forecast to growth 55% this year as compared to an industry average of 19.4%.
Kerry is a consumer foods group with 150 manufacturing facilities in 25 countries and employs 24,000 globally. It is known for innovation and big spending on R&D, and most recently a $100 million investment in building a new 28-acre global center focused on technologies, scientific research, and innovation and applications expertise across food, beverage and pharmaceutical markets. The company expects to deliver 6% to 10% growth in adjusted earnings per share in 2014.
Moody’s recently upgraded the ratings of all Irish mortgage-backed covered bonds, including those issued by Bank of Ireland. This is testament to the bank’s return to health following the Eurozone financial collapse in 2009. The bank’s total revenue for 2013 was $2.51 billion, 34% above the prior year.