Last month’s elections in India kindled hope for reform in the world’s biggest democracy and provided the nation's stock market with a nice bump.
One thing it couldn’t do is rescue the so-called BRIC funds, which are foreign stock portfolios that target the emerging market's most influential economies — Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The term "BRIC" was coined in 2001, by then-Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill. During the last decade, when emerging markets rallied, the BRIC story captured investors’ imaginations.
Goldman Sachs, Franklin Templeton, iShares and others rolled out BRIC funds. At their peak in 2010, these investments held more than $4 billion.
But since then performance has tanked.
Over the past five years the Goldman Sachs BRIC Fund version ranks in the 92nd percentile among emerging markets funds, Templeton BRIC ranks in the 99th and the iShares MSCI BRIC , an ETF, ranks in the 100th. Today investors have just $1.4 billion invested in BRIC funds, according to Morningstar. (The companies didn't respond to calls for comment by press time.)
The story is largely tied to China, which makes up roughly half the market value of BRIC stocks. The world’s second largest economy is no longer growing at a double-digit annual clip. And as a result of financial-crisis-era stimulus, has been dealing with inflation, a housing bubble and declining manufacturing.
Meanwhile Brazil’s once promising middle-class consumers seem over-extended (casting a cloud over its lavish World Cup spending.)
And as for Russia, well, there was Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and threats against Ukraine. Enough said.
The lesson for investors isn’t to abandon emerging markets altogether. As a group, these economies will continue to gain ground on the developing world. But the emerging markets themselves are evolving and maturing. No longer can you get away by betting simply on the biggest players.
Investors, in fact, might fare better in a more diversified emerging markets index fund, like Vanguard Emerging Markets Index Fund with exposure to many more emerging economies than just these four. It sounds counterintuitive, but investing in a fund that mixes in smaller (and possibly less economically stable) countries like Indonesia or Thailand might reduce the overall volatility of a foreign stock portfolio that focuses just on the big four BRICs.
Plus, companies in those markets are apt to grow just as fast if not faster than their Chinese or Brazilian counterparts.