Brazil Knocks China Down a Few Rungs

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Emerging Global Shares has started selling the INDXX Brazil Infrastructure Index Fund ( BRXX), its second country-specific infrastructure exchange traded fund. The ETF is more useful than the iShares MSCI Brazil Index Fund ( EWZ) and overshadows China.

Brazil, as one of the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- is a popular investment destination, its benchmark stock-market index having quadrupled in the past decade. Brazil's catalyst is that it has stuff (natural resources) that other countries (such as China) need. The mining boom means Brazil is getting richer, resulting in the improvement of living standards for Brazilians. There's a burgeoning middle class and a modernization of infrastructure. This is happening in many countries around the world. The difference is Brazil's place in the process.

The country isn't without risks. It needs to put a cap on inflation, which requires high interest rates. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been at the helm during the boom, will be stepping down after the election scheduled for Oct. 3.

There are other risk factors too. The Brazilian stock market is up almost 75% in the past year, and the government is concerned about "too much, too fast," prompting it to institute a 2% tax on investment flows to stem currency appreciation. Given that the Brazilian real is up 24% against the U.S. dollar in the past 12 months, it's possible that the Brazilian government may take more extreme actions to stem currency volatility.

When U.S.-based investors consider picking an emerging-market country, Brazil and China are on the top of the list. Brazil, however, offers fundamental advantages that could be important in the next few years. China, in contrast, has become much riskier and controversial. There is visibility for mismanaged growth in terms of loan growth and real estate development, creating capacity that can't be filled. There are also concerns with residential property speculation (despite much higher down-payment requirements than in the U.S.).

In short, China has a lot of moving parts, far more than Brazil has. Part of the appeal of investing in emerging markets is that they're simpler than the U.S. China is on the road to being very complex, but not so Brazil -- not yet, anyway. From the top down, Brazil is a proxy for natural resources, and I believe that will continue to be the case for a long time even as the middle class grows and life improves.

The infrastructure fund's largest industry weighting is metals and mining, at 14%, followed by telecom, also 14%, utilities, 12%, independent power producers, 11%, and transportation infrastructure, 8.2%. Despite only having 30 stocks in the fund, the ETF's largest stocks account for only about 5% of assets, which dilutes some of the potential risk. The biggest holdings are Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA ( EBR), a utility, Companhia de Concessoes Rodoviarias, a toll-road company, Vivo Participacoes SA ( VIV), a telecom stock, and Vale ( VALE), the mega-cap miner.

The focus and composition of the ETF make it superior to the iShares MSCI Brazil Index Fund. A big issue with many single-country funds is that they're heavy in financial stocks. A portfolio that includes several such funds can end up being dramatically overweight in the financial sector, which, depending on your view, can either be a vague risk or an immediate and tangible risk.

The iShares fund has much larger weightings in individual companies. The combined weight of Petrobras ( PBR) and Petrobras' preferred stock is 21%; for Vale and its preferred stock, 17%, and ITAU Unibanco ( ITUB) makes up 8%. Those three companies add up to 45% of the ETF.

The case for the EG Shares INDXX Brazil Infrastructure Index Fund versus the broader iShares fund is that the new ETF isolates the heart of the economy. Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Those events will serve as catalysts for modernization, setting up gains for the INDXX Brazil Infrastructure Index Fund.
At the time of publication, Vale was a client holding.

Roger Nusbaum is a portfolio manager with Your Source Financial of Phoenix, and the author of Random Roger's Big Picture Blog. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Nusbaum appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.