Best Emerging Markets Funds for the Long Term

Emerging markets funds returned 19 percent, on average, in the third quarter.

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U.S. News is releasing a series of stories highlighting top-rated mutual funds according to various categories. These funds have performed well over the long term, are rated highly among the industry's analysts, and have low minimum investments, making them accessible to all investors—big or small. This is the first piece in a series of stories highlighting 10 categories that make up U.S. News's 100 Best Mutual Funds for the Long Term.

Even amid global uncertainty, emerging markets funds have surged in 2010. The average emerging market fund gained about 19 percent during the third quarter, according to Morningstar. U.S. stock funds gained an annualized 12 percent over the same time period.

[See Why Emerging Markets Belong in Your Portfolio.]

Experts see more growth ahead for developing economies: The International Monetary Fund estimates that emerging markets will expand at a rate of 7.1 percent in 2010. In the developed world, the IMF expects a growth rate of just 2.7 percent. "In terms of individual investors, they see all that growth and a stronger economy, and it's naturally more appealing," says Russel Kinnel, Morningstar's director of mutual fund research. "There are still some real risks there ... but the growth in the economies is certainly more real than in the past." With that in mind, here are U.S. News's best emerging markets funds for the long term.

Delaware Emerging Markets (DEMAX). The fund recently had a relatively large portion of its portfolio in developed markets, with almost a third of its assets in developed markets in Asia and North America. Management has the ability to invest in companies that are domiciled in the developed markets if those companies do business in emerging markets. Within emerging markets, the fund has large stakes in Brazil (14 percent of assets) and China (11 percent). Over the past 10 years, the fund has returned an annualized 17 percent. Its annual fees are 1.91 percent.

JPMorgan Emerging Markets Equity (JFAMX). About a third of the fund's assets are invested in Brazil, China, and India, and recently, about 20 percent of its assets were parked in cash investments. Management tends to hold onto its stock picks for a long period—10 years, on average. The fund has returned an annualized 13 percent over the last 10 years. Its annual fees are 1.85 percent.

Oppenheimer Developing Markets (ODMAX). The fund's volatility and turnover ratio—a measure of how often management replaces its holdings—have been much lower than its peers in recent years. The fund is heavy on Brazil and India, which together make up about 30 percent of the fund's assets. Over the past 10 years, the fund has returned 18 percent, on average. Its annual fees are 1.43 percent.

Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VEIEX). The fund tracks the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. The passively managed fund charges annual fees of just 0.40 percent. Over the past 10 years, the fund has returned 13 percent, on average.

Lazard Emerging Markets Equity (LZEMX). Management has a strict value focus, so don't expect it to follow the crowd. The fund is unique in that only about 3 percent of assets are dedicated to Chinese companies. (China makes up more than 19 percent of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.) Management has made higher-than-average bets on Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa. It has returned 16 percent, on average, over the past 10 years. The fund's annual fees are 1.15 percent.

RS Emerging Markets (GBEMX). Management is betting big on Asia, with almost 60 percent its assets invested there. Investors in this fund should be prepared for a bumpy ride: It has gained or lost more than 30 percent on six occasions during the last decade. The fund has returned an annualized 15 percent over the last 10 years. Its annual fees are 1.61 percent.

Bernstein Emerging Markets (SNEMX). Since 2005, the fund has become more of a blend fund—meaning its investments are now split about 50/50 between growth and value stocks. It was previously a value-focused fund. Half of the fund's total assets are split between three countries: China, Brazil, and South Korea. The fund has returned 16 percent, on average, over the past 10 years. Its annual fees are 1.48 percent.