Unsung markets reward the bold

Review of the year

The Wisdom of investing in emerging markets gained further confirmation this year. While the world can gasp at the performance of the US, it is as nothing compared to the returns a more speculatively-minded investor can produce in one of the many stock market hot spots.

In 1996, enormous returns came from countries such as Russia, where the Moscow Times Index has risen 162 per cent in local currency terms. And don't be put off by fears over the currency - even in dollar terms, investors in Russia have made a handsome 116 per cent return on their outlay.

Despite the murky politics, and the even murkier business practices, investors have seized on Russia as one of the great undervalued markets in the world. Privatisation in Russia has seen many state assets flogged off at bargain basement prices. There is a growing belief that as interest rates are brought under control, the fall in the rouble slows, and inflation is contained, that investment will start to rise.

It is a similar story in many other east European markets, which also put in some staggering returns. Poland has produced a 66 per cent rise, in dollar terms, while the Czech Republic gained 33 per cent.

Likewise, investors in most Latin American countries did not go empty- handed. Venezuela was the best-performing market, up 115 per cent, helped in the main by the rise of the oil price, while Brazil rose 37 per cent.

Among the decliners was South Africa, down 17 per cent, hampered by a weak rand, and uncertainty over its political stability. South Korea, one of the Asian tigers, has come down to earth with a bump, its market off 37 per cent. Chile fell 16 per cent.

Winners % change (US$)

Venezuela +134

Russia +116

Poland +67

Losers Chile -8.6

South Africa -19.8

Thailand -36.8

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