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Two ETF Plays for Southeast Asia

Stocks in this article: TLK EWM EWZ

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For investors seeking international exposure to countries that have outperformed even the fast growing nations of the BRICs, Southeast Asia presents two ETF options.

Option No. 1: iShares MSCI Malaysia Index Fund (EWM)

Year to date, EWM has increased by 3.4%. Meanwhile, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as represented by iShares MSCI Brazil (EWZ), MarketVectors Russia (RSX), PowerShares India (PIN), and iShares FTSE Xinhua China 25 Index (FXI), have moved by -5.4%, +2.3%, -2.5%, and -3.2%, respectively.

Malaysia's economy grew by 4.5% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier and the governor of the country's central bank said this week that she expects the economy can expand at a 5% growth rate in 2010.

Inflation in Malaysia is low and forecast to remain modest throughout the year, and the central bank says it is ready to gradually reel in stimulus measures. This has many people watching to see if there will be an interest rate increase soon.

Malaysia's economy is export-oriented and benefits from improving economic conditions worldwide. In particular, the country is an exporter of natural gas and oil, and higher energy prices from increased global economic activity will increase profits.

Investors in EWM do not need to be too concerned with energy prices though, since the sector is poorly represented in the fund. Instead, the sector that receives the greatest exposure in the fund is the financials, which account for 31% of the ETF's portfolio.

Among the banks in the fund, the two most prominent featured are CIMB Group and Malayan Bank, each accounting for about 8% of the fund. Both have Islamic banking divisions, which are an important part of financial business models in the region since Shariah law holds great influence in the predominantly Muslim country.

Consumer goods companies represent another prominent slice of the fund with consumer staples accounting for 14.6% of holdings and consumer discretionary 12.2%. The largest holdings in the consumer goods sector are Genting, and Genting Malaysia, the parent holding company and the branch division, respectively, of a leisure and hospitality-based corporation that accounts for a combined 8.4% of EWM.

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