With slow economic growth persisting in many developed nations, investors have taken a liking to emerging market economies. Featuring the right combination of fast-growing populations, fiscal responsibility and burgeoning middle classes, these nations have become portfolio necessities.
Much of investors' fascination with emerging markets is pointed towards the BRIC. Rightfully so, as Brazil, Russia, India and China have all seen tremendous growth in their economies due to having the right combination of resources. Collectively, it is estimated that these countries account for more than 40% of the world's population and hold more than one-third of the total foreign exchange reserves and gold. However, there are more fish in the sea.
Potential All Across the World
Overall, the growth stories in the BRIC have been well-documented. From rising consumerism in China to Russia's energy dominance, these nations fill headlines as well as portfolios. There are plenty of both broad and direct plays on the acronym. Both the iShares MSCI BRIC Index (NYSE:BKF) and Global X Brazil Consumer ETF (Nasdaq:BRAQ) are just some examples. Yet plenty of other countries fit the same mold.
The criterion of rising populations, growing middle classes and relative fiscal responsibility can be attributed to a whole host of nations across Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. Moving beyond the BRIC can yield some very positive catalysts for portfolio growth.
An Asian Superstar
When investors look to Asia, they are often trying to find the next China; they need look no further than Indonesia. With more than 240 million residents, Indonesia ranks as the fourth most populated nation in the world and can be thought of as a similar play on the growth of the international consumer. Since transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy in 1998, the nation's economy has grown at an annual rate exceeding 5% in seven of the past eight years. This has been mostly due to increasing consumption by the rising middle class, as 65% of the GDP is driven by domestic consumption.
The rest of that GDP is driven by the nation's vast exports of several key natural resources. Indonesia is the largest exporter of thermal-coal, as well as a large exporter of palm oil. This commodity is seeing increased growth as both a cooking medium as well as an alternative fuel source. Indonesia will profit greatly if, as expected, the demand for palm oil in China and India increases rapidly by 2014. Rice, rubber and coffee also are produced in the nation. Overall, the IMF estimates that the Indonesian economy will grow at 6.1% this year and 6.6% in 2013.
Eastern Europe's Shining Star
While Russia gets the top spot from investors in Eastern and emerging Europe, Poland could be the region's brightest star. As the sixth-largest economy in the European Union, the nation continues to see growth, while many of its EU sisters drown in debt. The nation's economy showed surprising resilience to the eurozone debt crisis by growing 4.3% in 2011. Like Indonesia, that growth is being driven by the one-two punch of exports driving consumer spending.
Poland is quickly becoming a low-cost manufacturer and exporter for the rest of Europe, as its proximity to leading nations such as Germany has not gone unnoticed. Leading European multinationals like Swiss firm ABB Limited (NYSE:ABB) have begun to take up shop in the country.
Likewise, that manufacturing and export prowess is trickling down to the nation's consumer base. With more than 38 million well-educated citizens, the potential for a continued consumer revival is at hand. The Polish Central Bank estimates the nation's GDP will grow by 2.9% in 2012, 2.1% in 2013 and 3% in 2014.
The Former Inca Empire
Much of Latin America's economic history has been tumultuous and Peru is no exception. Both the 1980s and 1990s saw periods of violence, drug trafficking and high inflation. However, after a succession of fiscally responsible, pro-business governments, Peru has moved forward. Since 2003, the economy has grown at an average rate of 6.6% per year.
Like both Indonesia and Poland, exports dominate in Peru. The country has seen increasing revenues for its products, as it's a leading producer of gold, copper, lead and zinc, and the prices of these commodities have risen exponentially over the last few years. Moody's recent debt upgrade for Peruvian bonds to investment grade has also helped increase foreign investment.
The Bottom Line
With many developed markets suffering from low growth over the last decade or so, investors have flocked to emerging markets in spades. While much of that attention has gone towards the BRIC nations, there are plenty of other emerging market opportunities that also warrant investor attention.