International investing has generated a great deal of publicity of late. Ian McDonald in the Wall Street Journal notes the rush of inflows into international equity mutual funds. More rapid growth overseas has made these markets more attractive relative to the U.S.
The greatest emphasis has been on the so-called “BRIC” markets (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Craig Karmin in the Wall Street Journal reports that a number of investment firms have been marketing dedicated BRIC funds to great acclaim to overseas investors.
The BRIC markets (and funds that focus on them) have had extraordinary returns. However there is a whiff of marketing hype behind the push for these funds.
“It’s a fad, not an investment thesis, that reminds me of the old Internet funds,” says Robert C. Pozen, chairman of MFS Investment Management in Boston. He says investors would be better served by owning diversified emerging-market funds that offer exposure to a broader array of companies.
It is interesting to note that despite the marketing push behind the BRIC countries the asset management firms with BRIC funds must deal with the portfolio management limitations of investing in just four countries.
A number of other analysts note the BRIC phenomenon with some skepticism. Barry Ritzholtz notes two of the BRIC countries, despite their recent returns, are not particularly investor friendly. Random Roger also notes the lack of appropriate individual investors available in the BRIC markets. The Capital Spectator reviews the recent performance of the global markets and tries to glean some insights from this analysis.
We have noted previously the flaws in some of the common assumptions behind international (and emerging market) investments. We would lean towards the explanation that the ‘BRIC’ phenomenon is primarily a marketing one. Each of the BRIC markets has their own unique opportunities and challenges. History tells us that there are few historical inevitabilities.
These markets may turn out to be both economic and investment successes. However we cannot know that with certainty today. The major thrust behind the concept of international investing is one of diversification. Focusing on the BRIC markets to the detriment of the rest of the emerging markets, and developed markets to boot, seems counterproductive at best.