BRIC Beat: Korea Trumps Brazil, China

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- may do well in 2011, but Korea will be the emerging-market nation to watch, says Arjun Jayaraman, manager of the Causeway Emerging Markets Fund (CEMVX).

The mutual fund, which garners three of five stars from Morningstar ( MORN), is up 23% this year, compared with 17% for its peers.

Korea is already outperforming Brazil and China, the hottest emerging economies. The country's Kospi Index has risen 20% this year, better than the 12% advance of China's Shenzhen Composite. Brazil's Bovespa Index is down 1%.

Welcome to TheStreet.com's Fund Manager Five Spot, where America's top mutual fund managers give their best stock picks and views on the market in a five-question format.

Why is Korea your top emerging market country for 2011?

Jayaraman: We like Korea because of valuation. Korea has been unfairly discounted due to some geopolitical reasons. And within Korea, we especially like Samsung ( SSNLF.PK) and Hyundai Motors ( HYMTF.PK).

What is your view of Brazil heading into the new year?

Jayaraman: We are underweight Brazil relative to the benchmark, and the reason is because we find cheaper alternatives to Brazil's largest companies. For Petrobras ( PBR), the big energy company, we prefer some Russian energy names that are cheaper. For CVRD ( VALE), the big copper and iron ore miner, we have a Polish mining company instead.

In your portfolio, you own large stakes in Russian energy companies. Is this a bullish call on oil and gas prices in 2011?

Jayaraman: It's not so much a call on oil prices, but rather the valuation is so compelling that even if you don't see increasing prices or if you have flat prices, these companies are still very attractive. One company that we own is Gazprom ( OGZPY.PK). Natural gas prices have not been that strong over the past year, and Gazprom has traded at a pretty low multiple, in the mid-single-digits. That's very compelling from a valuation perspective. Similarly, Lukoil ( LUKOY.PK) is more exposed to oil but it's trading very cheaply, so we like it as well.

Why are you underweight India in your portfolio?

Jayaraman: While India is very attractive from a growth perspective, the valuations are not compelling to us. So you are really paying up for that growth and history shows you don't get compensated for that high valuation.

What are your favorite Chinese stocks and why?

Jayaraman: One of our biggest holdings in the portfolio is China Petroleum ( SNP). It's an energy refiner and a very cheap stock. Another company that we like in China is China Mobile ( CHL). It's not that cheap, but it has very good growth prospects. It will certainly benefit from the push toward wireless in China. Lastly, we like China Construction Bank ( CICHY.PK), a high-quality bank trading at a reasonable multiple.

-- Reported by Gregg Greenberg in New York.

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