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The advent of exchange traded funds has made it easier than ever to access regions of the global marketplace that were traditionally difficult for U.S. investors to target. By using international ETFs, investors can now move well beyond the borders and target specific regions or nations in both developed and emerging markets.
Due to their breakneck growth, emerging nations have proven to be a particularly popular destination for many internationally minded investors. Interest in countries such as China, Brazil and India have helped nurture emerging-market ETFs -- such as the
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund
-- into some of the largest and most sought-after products in the ETF universe.
Amid this sweeping migration of U.S. investors into foreign markets, there have been some regions of the globe that have been ignored or overlooked. Many developing European nations have largely flown under the radar.
The blame does not fall solely upon investors. While investors looking for exposure to emerging nations in Latin America and Asia have a wide range of products to choose from, the number of available funds designed to track emerging European countries has been scant.
Over the past year, emerging European countries such as Poland have seen promising economic growth despite the debt issues that have plagued other developed nations in the European Union. Poland's February retail sales have surged by 12.2% year over year, the largest gain since July 2008, building on January's 5.8% increase.
Hungary is another interesting component of emerging Europe. Although it stood out like a sore thumb during the financial crisis in 2008 due to its large debt, the situation is now more stable. Hungary has a debt level that rivals developed nations such as the U.S. and France as a percentage of GDP, and the high level of foreign-denominated debt was problematic when its currency was falling. Unlike other nations with high debt, however, Hungary isn't running much of a deficit today, or adding to it, and has stabilized its debt ratio.
Finally, Russia's stock market has benefited from higher oil prices over the past few months, powering many of its firms to new post-recovery highs. Investors have shifted funds toward oil-exporting nations, especially those with attractive valuations such as Russia, whose market is valued at less than 7x its 12-month forward earnings.