Last month, Goldman Sachs quietly folded its BRIC fund into a broader emerging markets equity fund, a tacit recognition that the bank had failed to turn the BRICs concept, which was hugely successful as a marketing tool, into a successful investing strategy.
Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill launched the catchy acronym/concept in a 2001 report to capture the rise of four major emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the resulting shift in the balance of economic power globally.
"BRIC" was a hit. As canny veteran analyst Peter Tasker wrote in a piece titled "Bloody Ridiculous Investment Product?":
Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill gave birth to the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) which subsequently became a household term. So successful was O'Neil's coinage that in 2006 the four constituents began to arrange annual summits -- a classic case of believing your own publicity.
In fairness to O'Neill, his report suggested that the BRIC's increasing economic heft required a shake-up of the membership of the Group of 7 (the G7 organize regular summits between the finance ministers and central bank governors from seven industrialized countries to improve economic coordination).
He did not make the case that one ought to invest in the BRICs because their economies were growing at above-average rates. That was sensible, since there is persuasive evidence that there is essentially no link between GDP growth and country stock market returns.
However, "BRICs" was catchy enough that his employer saw a profitable opportunity -- not to invest in the BRICs themselves, but rather to market the concept to other investors.
It turns out that even Goldman's forecasts for GDP were aggressive. Here's a chart from their BRICs Monthly Report from June 2011:
Although they did not state it explicitly in the report, the implication was that the BRICs' combined GDP would overtake that of the U.S. by 2013 (Goldman fudged it by referring to the timeframe as "several years").
That never happened. The latest GDP estimates from the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook has the U.S. still ahead this year, with the BRICs only expected to surpass the U.S. in 2019.
In any event, it was long overdue for Goldman to shutter its BRIC fund. BRICs made a lot more sense as marketing concept than an investing thesis, and Goldman had the good sense to launch the BRIC fund in June 2006, at a time when emerging markets had been massively outperforming U.S. stocks for several years.
However, the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Over two-and-half years ago, fund research house Morningstar wrote:
As with many trendy ideas, though, things got sticky when fund companies tried to turn the BRIC concept into investment vehicles. ... How have these BRIC offerings fared? For the actively managed Goldman and Templeton funds, the answer is simple: badly.
The lesson is also simple, and it isn't that one shouldn't invest in emerging markets. However, in asset management, one should be particularly wary of trendy new "products." Jumping onboard an untested but heavily promoted concept has never been a path to successful long-term investing.
Alex Dumortier, CFA, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.