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Two ETF Plays for Southeast Asia

Stocks in this article: TLK EWM EWZ

The No. 1 holding in the fund is industrial conglomerate Sime Darby, which accounts for 8.8% of net assets and has significant interests in palm oil. Last month, Sime Darby reported strong earnings for its latest quarter, as did with many other Malaysian companies that also reported well, and gave positive guidance.

Option No. 2: MarketVectors Indonesia Index ETF (IDX)

IDX, which provides investors with exposure to Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, has done even better than EWM in 2010, up 4.2% year to date.

In contrast to Malaysia, Indonesia's economy relies far more on domestic consumption than exports and the total size of the economy is larger.

Indonesia was able to boast that it was one of only three G20 nations to post positive yearly economic growth during the financial crisis along with China and India. While most G20 economies were experiencing negative economic growth in 2009, Indonesia's economy grew by 4.4%, according to the CIA's world factbook, although this was a slowdown from 2008's growth of 6.1%.

The top holding of IDX is a conglomerate called Astra International, which accounts for 8.5% of the fund's holdings and has operations in the financial, industrial, and tech, sectors.

The second largest holding in the fund is Bank Central Asia. Financials account for 24.6% of the index that IDX tracks. The third largest holding a telecommunications company that is one of only two Indonesian companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Telekomunikasi Indonesia (TLK).

Materials and energy are also big sectors for IDX, accounting for 24.0% and 14.7% of the fund, respectively. These two sectors are then followed by consumer staples and consumer discretionary, which account for a combined 23.9% of IDX.

Indonesia is also hoping to get a boost in its recognition as a stable economy and a target of foreign direct investment from President Obama's visit to the country towards the end of March.

The head of Indonesia's investment agency, Gita Wirjawan, a former banker with JP Morgan (JPM) and Goldman Sachs (GS), is also confident that the free-trade agreement signed earlier this year with China and other ASEAN members will not hurt the country's economy. On the contrary, he said in a Reuters story that he actually believes the reduction of trade barriers will present many opportunities for Indonesia.

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