The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- The U.S economy has been faltering. Politicians have been blaming one another. And confidence is about as bad as it gets.
However, what you read or hear in the media about recessions and economic progress will not explain the success or failure of stock assets. For example, Australia boasts unemployment of only 5.3%, the highest interest rates among the G10 developed nations and GDP growth acceleration. (Note: The Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts 3.8% growth for Australia in 2012.)
Yet iShares MSCI Australia (EWA) fell 20% in the first three quarters of 2011. That's twice the loss that the S&P 500 experienced.China tells a similar tale. Although nobody has accurate employment data for the country, we do know that economic growth is a torrid 9%-plus. That hasn't mattered much to investors, as most U.S.-based ETFs for China have logged losses of at least 25% from the beginning of the year through the end of September. Granted, some of EWA's decline is due to the unwinding of a currency carry trade and the appreciation in value of the greenback. But not all of it. In truth, a country's GDP growth is not highly correlated with the country's stock market performance. On the other hand, directionality of a country's prospects do matter to stock markets. Investors have been wary of China's fiscal and monetary tightening. Would the government kill its growth machine before taming inflation? If so, how would Australia be able to export its wide range of natural resources with its strong Australian dollar and weak global demand? The fears are overblown. In fact, investors may want to begin nibbling at country ETFs that export significant goods and services to China, but only if the respective ETF climbs above a 50-day trendline. I'd keep a watchful eye on iShares MSCI Australia, iShares MSCI South Africa (EZA) and iShares MSCI Malaysia (EWM). Here are three reasons to maintain guarded optimism: 1. Europe. Greece is relatively small in the European Union (EU). It's not too big to fail, but Spain and Italy are. More importantly, large banks across Europe and the world are also "too big to fail." European leaders understand the stakes; they are extremely likely to prevail in finding a near-term resolution.