Most stock exchange traded funds have been a mess this month on slowdown fears, Greece and European debt. However, there are pockets of strength in some single-country ETFs.
The emerging economies were among the first movers during the rally, but the broader index of developing markets has tapered off as a risk-off sentiment grips equities. Still, some country-specific exchange traded funds are bucking the trend, holding on to their lofty heights.
So far, four developing economies have outpaced the global markets: Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Combined, the country-specific ETFs that track these markets have jumped at least 16% and as much as 35% year-to-date, compared to an average 4% for all emerging market countries, reports Trang Ho for Investor's Business Daily. These economies are still expected to expand 4% to 7.5% in 2012 and in 2013.
Carl Delfeld, editor of Pacific Rim Confidential, believes that these four emerging markets have stronger fundamentals than the BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India and China, the four largest.
For instance, "half of the population of Vietnam and Philippines is under 25, while China will grow old before growing rich," Delfeld noted in the article.
Investors who want to keep an eye on these markets may look toward their respective ETFs:
Global X FTSE Colombia 20 ETF (NYSEARCA:GXG) is up 23% year-to-date. Over the past three years, the fund has produced a 35% annualized growth. This year, the mining and oil sectors are fueling the country's currency and economy. The country is expected to expand 4.7% this year and 4.4% in 2013, with moderate inflation of 3.1% to 3.5%.
IShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index (NYSEARCA:EPHE) is up 20% year-to-date. Unemployment is at a 22-year low of 7%. The large young population is also driving domestic consumption, which makes up about 75% of the economy. The Philippines' reliance on domestic growth, rather than exports, will help shield the economy from any global contractions. The government expects the economy to grow 8% in 2012. However, the IMF projects a 4.2% expansion this year and 4.7% in 2013, with moderate inflation of 3.4%.
"Their debt-to-GDP ratio is low, and with a real interest rate of 3%, they have the flexibility to respond to weakness with monetary accommodation," Tony Welch, emerging market analyst at Ned Davis Research, said in the article. "Most importantly, the Philippines has been a relatively low-beta (volatility) market over the past three years, making it a good place to hide when we are in the midst of a market consolidation phase."
iShares MSCI Thailand Investable Market Index (NYSEARCA:THD) is up 16% year-to-date. Thailand is in full recovery mode after last year's floods hit 84% of the country. This year, GDP is expected to expand 5% and 7.5% in 2013.
"Markets are discounting that the worst is behind Thailand, and growth should resume as more and more factories get up and running from the flooding disaster," Welch said.
Market Vectors Vietnam (NYSEARCA:VNM) is up 35% year-to-date. The Vietnamese market may be starting to recover from its five-year fall or beginning a counter-trend rally in a longer downtrend. Nevertheless, the ETF is trading at a cheap valuation with price-to-earnings of 9.7, compared to the 11.1 for the whole emerging markets category. The IMF estimates the economy will grow 5.6% in 2012 and 6.3% in 2013, but inflation may still remain around 13% for a few years.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.