Emerging markets have produced amazing returns over the past few years, but many investors are starting to look beyond them. As the BRIC bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, and China moves toward fully developed status, investors are looking for opportunities from less-traveled markets like Poland, Turkey, and Morocco.

The SPDR S&P Emerging Markets  (AMEX: GMM) combines these two approaches into a single fund. As a result, investors can earn top returns from fast-growing popular emerging markets, along with some of the smaller and less well-known markets with high potential.

Fund facts
Inception date: 3/17/2007 (SS website says 3/17, while Fund Fact Sheet has 3/19, and Lipper has 3/20.)

Expense ratio: 0.60%

Net assets: $51 million.

Fund specifics
The SPDR Emerging Markets ETF tracks the S&P/Citigroup BMI Emerging Markets Index, where the top sector weights include energy, financials, and materials -- at 21.4%, 19.6%, and 15.7%, respectively.

The fund holds a widely diversified portfolio of nearly 500 stocks. The top 10 holdings, which make up about 20% of the portfolio, include Brazilian energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE: PBR), Chinese telecom China Mobile (NYSE: CHL), mining company Vale (NYSE: RIO), and Mexico's America Movil (NYSE: AMX). Four countries -- Brazil, China, Russia, and Taiwan -- account for just more than half of the fund's assets.

Market outlook
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index has rocketed ever higher over the past four years, gaining over 400%. That startling growth attracted a lot of attention, with investors pouring money into emerging markets. Yet more recently, the markets in China dropped 30% over the last few months of 2007. That bump in the road made it painfully obvious these markets don't just go up. However, in the long run, some of these countries will almost certainly grow at a faster rate than the U.S., making them attractive investment opportunities.

Portfolio fit?
One benefit of emerging markets used to be that they didn't trade in lockstep with stock markets in industrialized countries. Unfortunately, many emerging markets have tracked closely with recent declines in U.S. markets, thus providing fewer diversification benefits than anticipated.

Moving out on the risk curve to some of the pioneer markets that this fund invests in may provide better diversification, since these tiny markets have fewer ties to the United States. Of course, small markets like these can be volatile, and many are hard to invest in.

It's clear that both emerging and frontier markets are risky. But with that risk comes the potential for higher returns.

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