Back to the Global Portfolio mailbag.
Earlier this month, I
wrote on the transformation of European nations preparing to enter the
European Monetary Union
, and how the conditions they must meet for entry can translate into investment opportunities known as European convergence plays. Reader
wrote to ask my views on a potential new way to play European convergence: the
T. Rowe Price Emerging Europe and Mediterranean Fund
, which is due to be released Sept. 1.
The Emerging Europe and Mediterranean Fund is specifically geared to "take advantage of opportunities arising from such trends as privatization, the reduction of trade barriers, and progress toward economic and monetary union in Europe," according to its prospectus. It will invest in many of the countries that are up for admission into the EU or EMU: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey.
And the T. Rowe Price fund is not the only one positioned to take advantage of European convergence. In addition to the three closed-end regional funds I mentioned in my previous story, there are three open-end funds.
Pictet Eastern European Fund
is up 10.03% this year, but is geared for institutional investors, requiring a $1 million initial investment.
Vontobel Eastern European Equity fund requires only a $1,000 initial investment and carries a 2.41% expense ratio. It is down 1.18% this year and its largest allocation is in Hungary, with 40% of assets invested there, followed by 29% in Poland, according to
Regent Eastern European fund is down 5.17% this year. It requires a $5,000 initial investment and carries a large 4.36% expense ratio, which is well above the category average of 1.78%. It has 29% of its assets in Hungary, followed by 26% in Poland and 25.9% in Russia, which has not, of course, been invited to join the EU. But Russia can be an intriguing place to invest nonetheless, albeit for the extremely risk-tolerant.
By comparison, the Emerging Europe and Mediterranean Fund requires a $2,500 minimum investment and will carry an annual expense ratio of 1.66%, according to T. Rowe Price, giving it the lowest expense ratio of the bunch.
The fund is unique, in that it includes the Mediterranean area in its portfolio. In addition to the countries just named, as well as Russia, it will invest in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. While there are a couple of funds that invest in North Africa that include these countries, and several general emerging market ones that do, this will be the only fund that combines Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
In short, this fund "is a niche for someone who wants emerging markets but for whatever reason wants to avoid Latin America and Asia," says Gregg Wolper, senior international fund analyst at Morningstar. Why add the Mediterranean to the European mix? After all, North Africa and the Middle East, with the notable exception of Israel, are not real exciting places to invest.
But including those countries does offer some nice diversification. Countries such as Egypt and Jordan are unlikely to be correlated very closely to Poland and the Czech Republic. In addition, there will be some sectoral diversification between the tech-heavy Israeli market, say, and the more traditional emerging market plays such as resource companies in, say, Russia.
Make no mistake, though. "It will certainly be risky," says Wolper, due to the volatility that is common when investing in all emerging markets and which can be expected in many of these.
I'm always a fan of giving investors more options, however, if they can stomach the risk.