Which emerging markets have performed best over the past six months? Surely China must be up there, as it appears to have sailed through the global financial crisis without pausing for breath. Wrong. In fact, Chinese stocks actually declined slightly over that period, a performance that places China near the bottom of the ranking table.
And the winner is ...
The top-performing emerging market over the past six months (ending Jan. 29) was Russia (+43%), followed by Hungary (+35.8%), which was just under the performance of the Eastern Europe group as a whole (+36.9%) (these are dollar-based returns, calculated using data from index provider MSCI (NYSE: MXB ) ). You can easily gain exposure to this group through the MSCI Emerging Markets Eastern Europe ETF (NYSE: ESR ) , which owns shares of companies such as mining company Mechel OAO (NYSE: MTL ) and telco Vimpel Communications (NYSE: VIP ) .
Know what you buy
However, it's important to know what you're buying. The MSCI Emerging Markets Eastern Europe ETF is heavily overweight energy: At the end of 2009, almost half (48.8%) of its assets were invested in the energy sector. A single company -- Gazprom -- is over one-fifth of the fund; by comparison, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) , the largest component of the S&P 500, represents just 3.2% of assets of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE: SPY ) . While betting on energy looks like a fair proposition over the next three to five years, the outlook for 2010 looks less clear: I expect global energy demand to remain tepid.
The lesson here is not that you should rush off and blindly buy huge slugs of Eastern European stocks. My point is that there is a world beyond China and India, despite the optical illusion created by the disproportionate amount of media coverage they receive. If you're seeking exposure to foreign markets -- which is a smart thing to do -- make sure you're not limiting your gains by playing with a short deck.