BRIC ETFs Get Some New Flavors

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The questionable economic climate in the United States and Europe has lead many internationally-minded investors to avoid the developed world and pile into the emerging markets.

BRIC ETFs are some of the most popular products designed to track emerging nations. These funds provide investors with one stop exposure to Brazil, Russia, China, and India, which are considered four of the most sought after emerging markets today.

In the past year, funds such as iShares MSCI BRIC ETF ( BKF) and Guggenhiem BRIC ETF ( EEB) have handedly outperformed the S&P 500.

While products such as BKF and EEB provide exposure to the hot developing world, they are not without their shortcomings. Perhaps most notable is the fact that EEB and BKF are far from evenly weighted across the four constituents.

Although they are designed to track all four countries, within both EEB and BKF, China and Brazil command the lion's share of the index while India and Russia are noticeably downplayed.

Investors looking for a less traditional basket of emerging markets may find two BRIC-alternative funds from First Trust more to their liking.

The First Trust ISE Chindia Index Fund ( FNI) and First Trust BICK Index ( BICK) give investors exposure to new takes on the old BRIC acronym.

In the past month period, FNI and BICK have managed to outperform their traditional BRIC-focused competitors.

FNI is designed to provide investors with concentrated exposure to the second half of the BRIC acronym. Excluding Brazil and Russia, this fund dedicates its entire portfolio to the markets of China and India. According to the fund website, FNI makes a strong effort to divide exposure across the two nations in an equal fashion.

Currently the fund's top positions included ICICI Bank ( IBN), Baidu ( BIDU), HDFC Bank ( HDB), Infosys Technologies ( INFY), and China Mobile ( CHM). The fund is set up in a tiered structure with these five positions accounting for 36% of its total index.

FNI carries a 0.60% expense ratio, making it less expensive than its BRIC competitors.

Whereas FNI focuses on a concentrated slice of the traditional BRIC index, BICK shakes up the basket by dropping companies hailing from Russia and filling the gap with exposure to South Korean firms.

Similar to FNI, BICK attempts to weight exposure to each nation equally, thereby ensuring that no single country controls the fund's movements.

BICK's top positions include Axis Bank, Wipro ( WIT), Larsen and Toubro, HDFC Bank, and Sterlite Industries ( SLT). The fund's index is strongly diversified, with its top five positions accounting for less than 10% of its total portfolio.

Being a new product and the first fund of its kind, BICK has struggled to generate a strong following. Today, the fund's average trading volume is only 15,000, thereby making it too illiquid to be considered a safe play. The fund is not quite out of the question, however.

First Trust has recently taken action which may result in this fund becoming a suitable investing alternative to veteran BRIC products.

Late last week, the fund's provider announced that it was slashing its expense ratio to 0.64% from 0.70%. This reduced price places the fund in line with classic BRIC-focused products. This change will go into effect on Oct. 1.

Given the current economic conditions, I do not expect emerging markets to fall out of favor any time in the near future. Investors have a number of options to consider when looking for exposure to this region of the globe and FNI and BICK each offer a new play on an old favorite.

-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.

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At the time of publication, Dion Money Management was not long any equities mentioned.

Don Dion is president and founder of Dion Money Management, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.

Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.

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