"The BRICS Are the Best Place to Invest."
No longer true. Until 2008, the BRICS performed far better than other emerging equity markets -- or developed markets, for that matter. And by a lot: For the five years ending in 2007, investors in the four original BRICs earned an annualized 52 percent return, compared with just 16 percent in the G-7 markets. But in the past five years, through Aug. 31, that figure was -3 percent for the BRICs and -1 percent for the G-7. This was in part a correction to exaggerated expectations, which drove up valuations and currencies to unsustainable levels. It also seems, however, that the BRICS' competitive edge is now being questioned in more fundamental terms. Of course, it makes perfect sense for investors to diversify and not ignore such a huge, successful part of the global economy, but that is different from blind euphoria.
Each of the BRICS is very different, and so are the question marks that accompany their economies. For example, China's wage costs had been so much lower than Mexico's for several decades that Mexico had difficulty competing, despite its closeness to the U.S. market. But that wage gap has closed in recent years -- Chinese labor rates have grown from 33 percent of Mexico's in 1996 to 85 percent in 2010 -- and now investment is flowing back to Mexico. Even when Indian growth rates went through the roof, bureaucracy, budget deficits, and infrastructure bottlenecks remained serious impediments. Brazil successfully turned around its floundering economy in the 1980s and then benefited from three windfalls: China's thirst for commodities, energy discoveries, and a competitive edge as an agribusiness giant. Now, however, China's slowing economy and the world's shift toward ubiquitous shale gas is changing the picture. Or consider Russia, which, to its peril, has squandered its oil-and-gas weapon by pooh-poohing the potential of shale gas, opening up export opportunities for the United States in Europe.
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