With nearly 200 countries in the world, decisions about where to put your money can be daunting. Pick the right country and your investment can soar, while an investment in the wrong place can mean disaster. As an alternative to the single-country roulette wheel, a broadly diversified fund like the Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF
So many countries
VWO currently has exposure to 25 countries, with the heaviest weight in Korea at 15%, followed by Taiwan, Brazil, China, and Russia, which have a total combined weight of 40%. The fund has its investments spread out over roughly 860 stocks. Top holdings include Samsung Electronics at 6%, Taiwan Semiconductor
Low cost and positive performance
VWO has been a huge success and has garnered more than $14 billion in assets. One of the reasons the fund is attractive is its expense ratio, which, at .30 basis points, gives you access to a variety of countries for a very low cost. Another reason investors have flooded the fund with cash is VWO's 69.7% cumulative return since the fund was listed in March 2005.
No discussion of a fund that invests outside the U.S. is complete without mention of the unique risks associated with straying from the mainland. These risks tend to be focused in three areas: country, regional, and currency risk.
Country risks include changes that impact asset valuation and can range from political to financial, such as the loss of assets that can occur when a country decides to nationalize businesses. Country risks can be extremely high in emerging markets, such as those countries the fund invests in, where the political fortunes of governing parties may turn on a dime and a new regime can alter or reverse previous policies and agreements.
Regional risks can impact one or more countries in a geographical area. These broader risks can come in the form of natural disasters like tsunamis or cyclones, or political upheavals.
Currency risk can also impact the fund's investments and may be the result of unfavorable changes in exchange rates.
If you want to add some global exposure to your portfolio, VWO might be suitable for you. Since emerging markets have relatively low correlations to other asset classes, this fund can provide significant diversification benefits. But even though VWO may have higher returns than a fund that invests in developed markets, don't be surprised if there is significant volatility with this fund, since the risks it faces are higher than in more developed markets. VWO not only gives you exposure to the four largest and fastest-growing economies of the Third World -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- but you have 21 other countries thrown in for good measure and for a very low fee.
Fool contributor Zoe Van Schyndel lives in Miami and enjoys the sunshine and variety of the Magic City. She does not own any of the funds or securities mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.