Surprise! According to Morningstar Investment Research, one of the best-performing stock markets in the first quarter was Russia, up 20% through March 31. That’s almost twice the S&P 500’s rise.
Morningstar stock analyst Imari Love recommends two Russian stocks: Mobile TeleSystems (NYSE:MBT) and VimpelCom (NYSE:VIP). And indeed, both are interesting companies. However, if you want to take advantage of a smoking-hot market, but aren’t sure about specific stocks, read on. Here are an exchange-traded fund, an open-end fund and a closed-end fund that will let you get in on what’s happening in the Russian market.
Faced with a choice between three funds with similar expense ratios, I believe it’s best to own the ETF with the longest history. In this case, it’s Van Eck’s Market Vectors Russia ETF (NYSE:RSX), which commenced trading on April 24, 2007. Its annualized total return for the past three years is 19.3%, 710 basis points higher than the MSCI EAFE index. Its expense ratio is 0.62%
Both VimpelCom and Mobile Telesystems are top 25 holdings of the fund. A majority (87%) of the holdings have market capitalization’s of greater than $5 billion and none are less than $1 billion.
If small caps are your thing,Van Eck also offers a Market Vectors Russia Small-Cap ETF (NYSE:RSXJ), which began trading on April 13, 2011. It has a measly $5.1 million in net assets compared to more than $2 billion held by its big sibling. It’s too niche a fund for my tastes, but for those willing to absorb the extra risk, its expense ratio is only five basis points higher at 0.67%.
Here there are two basic choices, although you can buy a few European funds over-the-counter. The first and larger fund in terms of assets ($444 million) is the Central Europe and Russia Fund (NYSE:CEE), managed by Deutsche Bank’s U.S. asset management division. Morningstar gives it a four-star ranking. Its 10-year annual return as of April 25 is 14.2%, 690 basis points higher than the MSCI EAFE index.
As its name suggests, it’s more than just Russia, which accounts for 71% of the holdings. Turkey, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary account for other 29%.
The second option is the Templeton Russia and East European Fund (NYSE:TRF), managed by legendary emerging markets specialist Mark Mobius. While it gets only a two-star rating from Morningstar, it has a much larger Russian component, at 87% of the portfolio. Its 10-year annual return is 220 basis points lower than CEE at 12%.
The big attraction with the Templeton fund is its low annual turnover of 11%, one-third that of the Deutsche Bank fund. However, when you consider that CEE has an expense ratio of 1.11%, 68 basis points lower than the Templeton fund, I think you have to choose the lower-cost fund.
According to Morningstar, three choices are available, including one-star, two-star and three-star funds. Being fee-conscious, I’m going to eliminate the Third Millennium Russia Fund (MUTF:TMRFX) because it charges 2.75% annually. In addition, its five-year performance is the worst of the bunch.
That leaves me with two. The remaining funds have similar fees and portfolio turnover, so I’ll have to search elsewhere for the difference maker.
The bigger of the two funds is ING Russia (MUTF:LETRX) with total assets of $315 million compared to $12 million for the JPMorgan Russia Fund (MUTF:JRUAX). But size isn’t the key here.
First, the ING fund’s annual return over the last five years is -3.0%, 320 basis points higher than the JPMorgan fund. Second, the ING fund invests 100% in Russia, whereas the JPMorgan fund is only 82% invested in the country, with 2.7% in the U.K. Kazakhstan I could understand, but the U.K? Lastly, ING manages my all-time favorite mutual fund (it’s actually a grantor trust), the Corporate Leaders Trust Fund Series B (MUTF:LEXCX), which has been around since 1935, producing stellar returns for its fundholders. Seriously, though, its investment management team is top-notch. For those reasons I’d go with ING’s Russia fund.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.