In spite of widespread market turmoil in recent weeks sparked by the "credit crunch" in the US, funds investing in global emerging markets continue to show their resilience.
Economic growth in emerging markets, which is driven by domestic demand and exports to other emerging markets, has made them better able to withstand downturns in the developed markets, and those brave enough to invest in this sector are reaping significant rewards.
According to Devan Kaloo, the head of emerging markets at Aberdeen Asset Managers, one of the key attractions of emerging markets in the longer term is rising domestic consumption. "Young and growing populations, with expanding workforces and developing middle classes, will boost earning and spending power in emerging market countries, and this in turn will drive domestic growth," he says.
Allan Conway, the head of emerging markets equities at Schroders, claims that in today's uncertain economic environment, emerging markets are starting to look like a safe haven for investors.
"This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago," he says. "But today, economic fundamentals have improved enormously. On average, emerging markets economies are growing by 5-6 per cent a year, earnings growth is close to 20 per cent, and valuations remain supportive."
At the same time, says the independent financial adviser Dennehy Weller, the emerging economies represent more than 80 per cent of the world's population but less than 30 per cent of global income, and less than 10 per cent of the world stock-markets by value – which is why the opportunities are so exciting.
The table, supplied by Morningstar, shows some of the top-performing funds in the global emerging markets sectors over a one-year and a five-year period.
For example, someone who invested £1,000 five years ago in the Jupiter Emerging European Opportunities fund would have seen their investment grow to a staggering £5,183 today, on an offer-to-bid basis with net income reinvested.
Darius McDermott, managing director at the discount brokers Chelsea Financial Services, says this fund has a "relatively small investment universe. It focuses solely on European companies in areas or sectors that are considered by the fund manager Elena Shaftan to offer good prospects for capital growth, taking into account economic trends and business development. It has benefited greatly from Russia's economic strides and continues to see opportunities in Europe."
Over a one-year period, the top-performing fund is the Allianz RCM BRIC Stars fund, which invests in Brazil, Russia, India and China. The same £1,000 investment made a year ago in this fund would have grown to £1,633 today.
However, while past performance of many of these funds is impressive, investors must remember that this is not a guide to the future, and putting money into this region is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Brian Dennehy of Dennehy Weller urges investors contemplating these stock markets to be wary.
"This sector is up by about 250 per cent over the last five years, compared to a little over 100 per cent for the UK stock market," he says. "Increased volatility in credit markets, and concerns over the US economy, could certainly spill over into the emerging markets, although to date they have been showing remarkable resilience.
"Whatever the global background, you should not be surprised by occasional falls of 20-30 per cent, and some years of 50 per cent falls and 100 per cent rises."
He adds that for those who would rather pursue a lower-risk way to build their emerging market exposure, "making monthly contributions is a superb way to do this".
Dennehy recommends the Axa Framlington Emerging Markets fund, managed by William Calvert, who can choose from all emerging markets.
"The manager takes care to avoid areas where the downside potential is too great, whether at a stock or country level, a defensive approach which has attractions in these higher risk markets," he says.
McDermott says that one of the funds he likes at the moment is the Lazard Emerging Market Growth fund. "Often overlooked by private investors, this is a generalist fund that takes account of the entire picture, offering unconstrained exposure to global emerging markets," he says. "At any time it can shift its exposure to emerging markets across all continents.
"Having recently met with the team's management, we were impressed by their investment process – an analytical approach with risk at the forefront of the manager's mind."
He adds that, as well as focusing on company fundamentals, the fund's management will keep a close eye on any political turmoil or economic fallout that might impact negatively on a chosen company. "One main differentiator of the fund is its exposure to China," he says. "Currently, the fund does not see value in the region and is looking to its competitors for better growth potential."
However, Martin Bamford of the IFA Informed Choice, says he prefers BRIC funds, as Brazil, Russia, India and China are the four emerging markets considered to have the best potential for long-term growth.
"These funds do represent a higher risk to capital, but with the potential for big returns as well," he says. "Our preferred BRIC fund is the RCM Allianz BRIC Stars fund, which offers exposure to all four BRIC markets, along with a small amount in other emerging markets, but with slightly lower allocation to both China and Russia.
"This fund has a 4 per cent initial charge – or 3 per cent if you are holding it within an individual savings account (ISA), and a 1.75 per cent annual management charge. Investing in emerging markets is more expensive than investing in developed economies, and this extra cost is reflected in higher fund management charges."
That said, before investing in any emerging markets fund, you should seek independent financial advice to ensure that the investment is appropriate for your individual requirements and risk profile.
Philippa Gee, investments director at the IFA Torquil Clark, says emerging markets "undoubtedly represent an exciting investment area, providing you proceed with caution."
"Allocations should be no more than 15 per cent in a portfolio, and for a more moderate investor it should be around 7 per cent," she says. "Funds within the sector can vary considerably, so I'd split an investment between at least two companies for better diversification. It's a volatile region, so think long-term, invest monthly, and commit only non-essential money."