This column was originally published on RealMoney on Sept. 2 at 10:13 a.m. EST. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.Unless you have been vacationing on a remote island for the last couple of years, you no doubt know there has been a resurgence in emerging-markets investing. We have seen the formation of new ETFs, a resurgence in demand for closed-end funds that invest in emerging markets and even the creation of neat acronyms, like B.R.I.C. (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China). If you care about having a diversified portfolio, you need to learn about emerging markets. Clearly, those that have looked abroad may have reached the reasonable conclusion that emerging markets are too volatile. After all, the history of this asset class has been one of feast or famine. In 1997, the world suffered through the Asian contagion and one year later Russia defaulted on a portion of its debt. While it has been a while since the Mexican peso crisis of the mid-1990s, would anyone be truly shocked if a country in Latin America had a blowup of some sort? However, emerging markets have a long track record offering very good returns with a low correlation to the U.S. stock market. Central and Eastern Europe has been a white hot emerging market, but there is likely to be some volatility in this region for the foreseeable future. I believe Austria is a backdoor way to capture some of the benefit that could occur in this region without trying to find a good Estonian bank stock; Barclays offers the iShares Austria ( EWO) to capture the effect. The region's expansion is focused primarily on offering much cheaper manufacturing costs than Western Europe. Wages in places like Slovakia are often 10% what they would be in Germany, for example, and as new factories are being built and old factories modernized, it is the Austrian banks that are financing this boom.
It's Not All EdelweisAustria (and by extension EWO) has been steadily making new highs. The EWO is up 150% in the past two years, as opposed to most of Europe, which has been treading water. It is possible that the next move of 10% or more in the EWO is down. Also, the largest component of the EWO is OMV, an oil company that has moved up about 200% in the last two years. If the energy sector has a substantial correction, I would expect OMV, and thus EWO, to participate to some degree. Finally, Austria is a member of the European Union, and while growth across the region has been anemic, it has not held back Austria. That could change, but I believe that another reason Austria has done so well is because its economy is healthier than most of Europe. The best evidence of that is an unemployment rate of only 4.6% compared to 8.7% for the region (according to Bloomberg). In sum, the tailwinds created by eastern European growth, systematic pension investment and the devotion of resources to Austria by more investment firms outweigh the potential risks outlined. To me, these themes are simple to grab on to and understand. Simple is often better. P.S. from TheStreet.com Editor-in-Chief, Dave Morrow:
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