The Best Way to Play Emerging Markets

The fourth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit that concluded last week wasn't all talk and no action -- a joint development bank on the lines of the World Bank and several initiatives to boost intra-BRICS trades were some of the highlights.

Rapidly growing markets look poised to overcome global tensions such as the eurozone crisis that's still helping to bog down the world economy. In the past 10 years, 25 countries defined as "rapid growth markets" grew at three times the rate of advanced economies, a pace that's likely to continue in the next decade. Here's a quick look at where five of those nations in particular -- the BRICS -- are headed in the next few years.

Brazil emerged as the sixth-largest economy in the world last year, displacing the U.K. to seventh place. Although economic growth cooled down a bit last year, Nomura Securities raised this year's GDP growth forecast for the country a few weeks ago. The World Bank expects Russia's inflation rate, meanwhile, to remain low this year. If oil prices remain firm in 2012 and 2013, the nation's fiscal budget could well go into surplus. In India, the expected growth rate of around 7% for 2012 might seem modest, but Ernst & Young predicts the growth to go as high as 9.5% in 2013. Economists believe India and Russia could grow exponentially over the next decade and push the U.K.'s position even lower on the list.

China's rapid growth in the past few years has been phenomenal. Although fears of a slowdown are looming large, China's manufacturing data for March beat forecasts to hit an 11-month high.

How to profit from all this
With the BRICS nations accounting for one-third of the world's population and nearly a fifth of the world's total GDP, finding investment opportunities focused on these nations seems worthwhile.

One way to do so is by picking stocks of companies based in these nations. But for those who want to diversify their emerging-market exposure, a better and easier way may be to look into BRICS exchange-traded funds. Since South Africa became a part of this group only last year, most ETFs focus on the "BRIC" part of the BRICS only. I've found three such ETFs for you.

The iShares MSCI BRIC Index Fund (NYS: BKF) has surged 12.5% year to date. It has a massive portfolio of more than 300 companies, with about 40% exposure to the financial-services and energy sectors, and a major chunk of its investment is in China. Its top three holdings are:

  • Russia's largest company and the world's biggest gas company, Gazprom.
  • The world's largest mobile-phone company by subscriber base, China Mobile. Its stock has emerged as the best performer so far this year among all China-based telecom companies listed in the United States.
  • Brazil's oil and gas company, Petroleo Brasileiro (NYS: PBR) , better known as Petrobras. The oil giant is aggressively ramping up production to make the most of high crude-oil prices.

Then there's the Guggenheim BRIC ETF (NYS: EEB) , which has also gained 10.9% year to date. It gives you exposure to 84 companies, with greater focus on the energy sector. The fund has invested the most in Brazil. Its top three holdings:

  • The world's second biggest mining company and Brazil's largest exporter, Vale (NYS: VALE) .
  • Petrobras.
  • China Mobile.

Another ETF is SPDR S&P BRIC 40 (NYS: BIK) , which has gained 12% year to date. Like the iShares MSCI BRIC Fund, this one too has almost equal allocation to the financial-services and energy sectors. It gives you exposure to 44 companies, and China accounts for a substantial 45% of the total allocation. The top three holdings:

  • Gazprom,
  • Russia's largest lender, Sberbank, which is gearing up for a secondary public offering next month.
  • China Mobile.

The Foolish bottom line
You must have noticed how these rapidly growing nations boast of some of the world's biggest companies. I think getting a piece of these heavyweights is a great idea, especially when you can have so many of them at one go.

The BRICS could well be on their way to greater power and say in the world. I'll follow up with deeper insight into the individual ETFs, as well as other country-specific ETFs. Stay updated on all the analysis by adding these ETFs to My Watchlist, our free, personalized stock-tracking service.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Neha Chamaria owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of China Mobile and Petroleo Brasileiro. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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