Rise of the Civets investment funds

By Louise Greenwood
BBC business reporter

image captionTurkey's Abdullah Gul has been in the UK on a three-day state visit

A host of investments are being launched targeting the world's fastest growing economies.

But analysts are warning of a new "gold rush" into some potentially unstable markets.

This week has seen two foreign presidents arrive on state visits to the UK, keen to improve business links and attract investment.

The arrival of Turkey's Abdullah Gul and Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos has thrown attention on the so-called Civets (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa) group of developing nations.

The growth rates of these countries are now far outstripping those of the established Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.

Turkey saw its annual growth rate hit 10.2% in the first half of 2011, according to the national statistical institute Turkstat.

The country boasts a diversified, skilled economy, low levels of public and household debt, and a growing population, half of which is aged under 30.

The members of the Civets group represent 8% of the global population.

Now financial firms are keen to tap into their growth potential.

New opportunities

In May, Standard & Poors launched its S&P Civets 60 Index, which tracks the top 10 performing stocks on each local exchange.

image captionPhilip Poole of HSBC says the Civets countries have low debts

Individual funds are also springing up, targeting Civets and so-called "next eleven" nations, such as the Philippines, Nigeria and Iran.

HSBC launched a purely Civets based fund in May.

It tracks up to 60 of the biggest listed firms in the six member countries, in sectors like consumer goods, financial services, telecoms and energy.

The three biggest economies, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, account for 75% of the fund.

Philip Poole, HSBC's global head of investment strategy, explains the potential appeal to ordinary investors.

"We see the future as being in emerging markets. They don't have the debt problems that we have in the developed world, that is one positive characteristic," he says.

"We think the consumption story will really be emphasising emerging market demand, and those population dynamics are very important in this," Mr Poole adds.

Volatile investment

Some analysts however are becoming increasingly concerned about this new investment rush.

They point to problems like currency fluctuations.

The Turkish lira has lost 16% of its value against the dollar in the past three financial quarters, making it one of the worst-performing currencies of 2011.

image captionLevent, Istanbul's financial district

Standards of corporate governance in many of these countries are often considered to be poor, but the biggest risk of all is political instability.

Egypt's main stock market the EGX 30 has fallen almost a quarter since the start of the year, after the events of the Arab Spring.

Last week, Standard and Poors down-graded Egypt's credit rating to BB minus, pushing it further into junk status.

Mark Dampier, head of investments at Hargreaves Lansdown, says other Civets nations are vulnerable.

"They are very small, they are emerging, but they come with a lot of volatility and a lot of political risk. So these aren't really for the mainstream (investor)," he says.

Tom Biggar, of Torquil Clarke Invests, says: "They have wrongly been touted as an alternative to Brics and emerging markets, but they are not in the same category.

"The link between the Civets nations is tenuous - adventurous investors should only consider (having) no more than 5% of their portfolio in this area," he adds.

Both investment managers warn that management fees and set up costs are the top end of the price range.

With even the US and stronger Eurozone countries struggling, there is no doubt fund managers are having to cast their nets wider to find growth in the world economy.

"At some point risk appetite will stabilise," says Philip Poole of HSBC.

"Then investors will start to look for value, and we think they'll find that value in these types of stories."