Emerging Markets on a Roll

TheStreet.com, Spring, 2012. This article was written with Oliver Pursche, the Co-Portfolio Manager of the GMG Defensive Beta Fund. It was part of a series of articles developed under an agreement with thestreet.com to work with a variety of contributors and assist them in delivering actionable investment ideas each week.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Emerging markets are on a tear, and you should be invested in them.

Of that there’s no doubt. Emerging markets are defined as less developed nations that are growing rapidly, consisting of primarily Asian, Latin American and North African countries. The best known EM countries — and the ones I’m going with here — are the venerable BRIC nations: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Despite the indisputable and productive contribution investments in EM can make to any growth portfolio, my observation is that by and large, investors avoid these markets.

I attribute this to some degree of psychological discomfort with investing in foreign lands, which by the way, suggests that markets are highly imperfect and subject to the nuances of the participants. This edges into the field of behavioral finance, and an article for a different day.

Another barrier to investing in EMs is the perceived degree of difficulty: Do you invest in foreign equities, domestic equities with BRIC exposure, or country specific ETFs? I counsel investors to use a blended strategy consisting of BRIC-exposed domestic equities and country specific ETFs.

For instance, while Brasil Foods SA might be a great stock that you can buy directly on the Bovespa through Schwab or almost any other broker, your capital gains could be wiped out by currency fluctuations. Managing these currency risks definitely not something you should try at home.

Hence, I’m making the case for buying U.S. equities with BRIC exposure. The management teams of large U.S. firms manage currency risk quite ably, and it’s reflected in their earnings. The BRIC-exposed companies we like and own are as follows:

I might add General Motors(GM_) to the list. We don’t own GM, but I’ve been impressed with their progress in Asia, and you may be surprised to learn that Buick is one of the fastest growing brands in China.

All this being said, I would not go with domestic equities entirely. While a strong economy and corporate earnings are highly correlated, a strong economy and the market index performance have a short-term low correlation and a high long term correlation.

Therefore the ETFs allow you to capitalize on the long-term growth in these markets as their middle classes expand, while diminishing equity specific risks such as scandal, regulatory changes, and the dynamics of the political landscape.

cannot stress enough the importance of reducing risk where you can. Certainly taking on more risk can lead to higher returns, but it can also lead to loss of capital which is tragic, and increasingly harder to replace — especially as you age!

If you’ve been smart and fortunate enough to have invested in EM markets so far, this may prove to be a good time to reduce your risk by cutting your direct exposure through ETFs and shifting proceeds into U.S. multinationals with significant EM sales growth potential.