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Israel's stock market is walloping its neighbors

Inside the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange
Ariel Jerozolimski | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Inside the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange

Despite the geopolitical turmoil in the rest of the Middle East, Israel's stock market has been a stellar outperformer.

In fact, the country's principal equity indexes are surging at time when its neighbors are declining. The Tel Aviv 100 and Tel Aviv 25 have registered double-digit gains for the year, while many others in the region have shown lackluster numbers that have worsened considerably in recent days.

The most recent leg up for the Israeli markets, and leg down for regional competitors, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election victory last month. That came amid a general recovery for Israel stocks, which slipped in 2014 amid economic turmoil in Europe, which Israel relies upon to take its exports, and the prolonged Gaza conflict.

"As Europe seems to have stabilized and other export markets continued to grow, Israel started to hit bottom and began to turn around," said Brian Friedman, president of Israel Investment Advisors, which has a private fund that invests in the country.

Though the market dipped in the days immediately following the bruising election, the TA 25 is up 3 percent over the past week. It has gained 6.9 percent in the past month and has risen 12.1 percent year to date and 16.1 percent over the past 12 months, according to FactSet.

Economists also have been moving up estimates for gains in Israel's gross domestic product, currently at 3.5 percent.

"You have to remember, Israel, even though it sits in the Middle East, it's much more like a developed Western economy," Friedman said. "The rule of law exists (in Israel) and you can't say that for any other country in the region."

The country has been aggressive in efforts to expand its equity offerings.

At the recent Israel Investment Seminar in New York, Yossi Beinart, head of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, spoke of plans to attract investors, including a move to allow Israeli companies to adopt Generally Accepted Accounting Procedures, or GAAP.

In addition, the exchange, in conjunction with BlueStar Indexes, announced the TASE-BlueStar Israel Global Technology Index, which will track 57 major technology companies and serve as a benchmark for index funds.

"Israel is a dominant leader in high-tech. We are actively promoting this industry and encouraging international investors to invest broadly in Israeli companies," Beinart said in a statement.

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The advance of Israeli stocks comes amid a pronounced decline elsewhere.

Egypt's EGX 30 index has slumped 6 percent in the past month, while Dubai's main index is off 4.6 percent and Bahrain's All Share is off 2.9 percent. Egypt is down 0.4 percent year to date, while Dubai is down 4.2 percent and Bahrain is flat.

An exchange-traded fund that tracks the region broadly, the SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa fund, is up about 3 percent this year. By comparison, the S&P 500, which tracks U.S. large-cap companies, had gained just 0.17 percent in 2015 as of Thursday trading.

"Macroeconomic growth is starting to accelerate," Friedman said. "You had a brief recession after the Gaza conflict last summer. Consumer spending in particular was weak. Israel has done a lot of things in recent years from an economic reform point of view that has really put the wind at its back."

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To be sure, over the course of time Middle Eastern stocks have held up well against their global competitors. Egypt's market, for instance, is up 41.6 percent over the past three years, while Israel's has gained just 24.6 percent during the period.

In addition to buying individual companies, investors can play the region through the following ETFs, which represent the 10 largest funds in assets under management:

The ETFs of the Middle East

Ticker
Fund name
AUM
Performance YTD
EZA iShares MSCI South Africa $429.6M 3.40%
EIS iShares MSCI Israel Capped 101.5M 8.14%
AFK Market Vectors Africa $97.6M -3.59%
EGPT Market Vectors Egypt $54M -3.51%
GAF SPDR S&P Emerging ME & Africa $48.5M 2.36%
ISRA Market Vectors Israel $43.8M 5.92%
GULF Wisdom Tree Middle East Dividend $34.4M -1.29%
UAE iShares MSCI UAE Capped $33.7M -6.13%
QAT iShares MSCI Qatar Capped $33.3M -2.74%
NGE Global X MSCI Nigeria $24.2M -10.97%
Source: ETF.com