Editor's note: This piece originally ran earlier today on our newest Premium service, ETF Profits. Click here for a 14-day trial to this exciting product!The advent of exchange traded funds has made it easier than ever to access regions of the global marketplace that were traditionally difficult for U.S. investors to target. By using international ETFs, investors can now move well beyond the borders and target specific regions or nations in both developed and emerging markets. Due to their breakneck growth, emerging nations have proven to be a particularly popular destination for many internationally minded investors. Interest in countries such as China, Brazil and India have helped nurture emerging-market ETFs -- such as the Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF ( VWO) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund ( EEM) -- into some of the largest and most sought-after products in the ETF universe. Amid this sweeping migration of U.S. investors into foreign markets, there have been some regions of the globe that have been ignored or overlooked. Many developing European nations have largely flown under the radar. The blame does not fall solely upon investors. While investors looking for exposure to emerging nations in Latin America and Asia have a wide range of products to choose from, the number of available funds designed to track emerging European countries has been scant. Over the past year, emerging European countries such as Poland have seen promising economic growth despite the debt issues that have plagued other developed nations in the European Union. Poland's February retail sales have surged by 12.2% year over year, the largest gain since July 2008, building on January's 5.8% increase. Hungary is another interesting component of emerging Europe. Although it stood out like a sore thumb during the financial crisis in 2008 due to its large debt, the situation is now more stable. Hungary has a debt level that rivals developed nations such as the U.S. and France as a percentage of GDP, and the high level of foreign-denominated debt was problematic when its currency was falling. Unlike other nations with high debt, however, Hungary isn't running much of a deficit today, or adding to it, and has stabilized its debt ratio. Finally, Russia's stock market has benefited from higher oil prices over the past few months, powering many of its firms to new post-recovery highs. Investors have shifted funds toward oil-exporting nations, especially those with attractive valuations such as Russia, whose market is valued at less than 7x its 12-month forward earnings.
Despite the region's recent strength, investors looking for a geographically diverse investment in this region currently have only two options at their disposal: the SPDR S&P Emerging Europe ETF ( GUR) and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Eastern Europe Index Fund ( ESR). Of these two products, only GUR boasts the adequate volume needed to overcome liquidity issues. GUR is designed to track the S&P Emerging Europe BMI Capped Index. Over the past year, GUR has outpaced broad, Europe-focused ETFs such as the iShares S&P Europe 350 Index Fund ( IEV). The fund's heavy dedication to energy likely played major role in pushing it ahead. In total, this sector accounts for more than 40% of the fund's total portfolio. Much of this slice is represented by the Russian goliaths Gazprom, Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz and Rosneft. These four companies are among GUR's top 10 holdings, so investors need to keep in mind that Russian equities account for the lion's share of GUR's assets. While the fund boasts exposure to nations such as Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, it will be Russia's market that is the fund's primary driver, accounting for 60% of GUR's geographic breakdown. Although GUR has its geographical limitations -- and it could face headwinds in the event that energy falls out of favor in the months ahead -- the fund still presents a promising opportunity for investors looking to target the frequently overlooked European nations that hail from the developing world. At the time of publication, Dion Money Management held no securities mentioned.