April's Top EM Mutual Funds Show It's Time For Some PIE


Broadly speaking, emerging markets stocks have been losing bets for investors this year, but some developing nations have surged, just not the major ones such as the BRIC quartet.

With the rocky performance of the broader emerging markets complex in mind, it is a good thing that some mutual funds and ETFs have been able to deliver solid returns for investors. In fact, three of the five best-performing emerging markets mutual funds in April gained at least 4.5 percent, according to Barron's.

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April's leader was the CNI Charter Emerging Markets (RIMIX), which gained a tidy 4.7 percent to run its year-to-date gain to 8.1 percent, Barron's reported. In the second spot was the Baron Emerging Markets Fund (BEXIX) with an April gain of 4.6 percent to boost its year-to-date performance to a seven percent pop.

That all sounds good, but it is not. In comparison to the PowerShares DWA Emerging Markets Technical Leaders Portfolio (NYSE:PIE), the aforementioned mutual funds and some of their rivals do not stack up well at all. Indeed, PIE was up 4.62 percent last month, but the expense ratio on the CNI fund is 1.98 percent, according to the fund's fact sheet.

The Baron fund's web site shows two different expense ratios, both of which are dreadful at 3.37 percent and 1.25 percent. PIE charges 0.9 percent per year, which by the standards of ETFs is high, but apparently 90 basis points is not pricey among emerging markets mutual funds.

Important to note is year-to-date returns. The average of the two mutual funds mentioned here is 7.5 percent. PIE surged 11.6 percent through April 30, dominating larger, more heavily traded rival ETFs in the process.

Perhaps the most important reason why some of the larger diversified emerging markets ETFs have struggled this year is significant weights to laggard markets such as the BRICs, South Korea and South Africa. To that end, the Baron fund deserves some credit for being in the green year-to-date with India, Brazil and China combining for over 42 percent of the fund's weight, according to issuer data.

While exposure to other laggards such as Russia and South Korea is slight in that mutual fund, so is exposure to star emerging markets (Indonesia is an exception with a 10.9 percent allocation) such as Thailand and Turkey.

PIE's comparatively heavy weights to leading developing markets such as Indonesian, Thailand, Mexico and Turkey, among others, illustrate why the ETF is more than a catchy ticker. It is a viable alternative to rival ETFs and should give investors serious pause about devoting capital to higher-fee mutual funds.

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