August 27, 2018 / 11:00 AM / 3 months ago

Turkey's economic pain felt as far as Tennessee

NEW YORK, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Turkey's currency crisis has roiled emerging-markets investors far and wide, including the U.S. state of Tennessee, where the state's retirement system is the biggest institutional holder in a Turkey exchange-traded fund (ETF).

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS), which manages a retirement plan for public employees statewide, was the largest institutional shareholder in the U.S.-based iShares MSCI Turkey ETF, according to Thomson Reuters data based on public filings as of June 30, with more than with 880,000 shares valued at around $19 million as of Friday's value.

The Turkey ETF has lost around half its value for the year to date, hit by worries about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's influence over monetary policy and a worsening diplomatic rift with the United States. The lira is down more than 37 percent this year and the country's BIST 100 stock index is down around 22 percent.

It was a reversal from the prior year, when the Turkey ETF generated a total return of nearly 38 percent in 2017, including dividends, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"It is a obviously a frustrating situation and it's a real shame what's happening in the country," Michael Brakebill, TCRS's chief investment officer, said in an interview on Friday.

Still, the investment was a small part of the fund, which at the end of its fiscal year on June 30 had a value estimated at $49.7 billion and an annual return of 8.19 percent, according to data the fund provided.

"We own thousands of things and there are going to be a bunch that will go wrong and this is one of those," said Brakebill.

TCRS invested in the iShares Turkey fund in 2012, it said.

The retirement system had a strategy of building up a passive portfolio of single-country ETFs so it could exclude countries that ranked poorly on third-party indexes of corruption and democracy. That meant excluding the largest emerging market, China, according to one of the fund's investment reports.

The portfolio weights individual country ETFs by their market size relative to the overall benchmark. TCRS said it did not take an active position, either positively or negatively, on Turkey.

"This particular incident doesn't make us rethink the strategy," said Brakebill. "It is part and parcel with what we walk through in the risks involved with emerging markets."

In a separate email, Brakebill added that with a rapidly growing population of 80 million, Turkey embodies the "potentials and risks of emerging market investments," although he said the retirement system had been "disappointed" with its investments in the country. (Reporting by Megan Davies and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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