GOT SALSA FEVER? CLOSED-END FUNDS INVEST EVERYWHERE. EVEN LATIN AMERICA.
If you like the idea of investing in Latin America and have a penchant for bargains, take a look at closed-end funds.
Trading just as stocks do--- on the major exchanges with per share prices reflecting supply and demand--- closed-end funds give investors an opportunity to invest in a portfolio of professionally managed securities that may be priced higher, lower or equal to the net asset value of the basket of securities that make up the fund. Like open-end funds, they may also have their assets invested in various asset classes, industry sectors and world-wide markets.
"Because the closed-end fund universe is so broad, spanning across roughly 10 different categories, there is always something that's out-of-favor or undervalued," says Thomas Herzfeld, a specialist in closed-end funds and president of the Miami-based money management firm bearing his name.
One way to look for bargains in the closed-end fund arena is to look at the stocks that have underperformed recently. During the first quarter, for example, Herzfeld said that bargains could be found in any number of closed-end funds from those investing in health care to municipal bond funds.
And then there is Latin America.
Running contrary to the bulls, investing in Mexico, Latin and South America hasn't proved very profitable for either closed- or open-end fund investors over the past couple of years. But with Latin markets surguing so far this year, that may be changing.
Herzfeld's Caribbean Basin Fund, (ticker symbol CUBA), for example, was ranked the No. 1 closed-end Latin Fund over the last 12-month period ending March 31, according to Lipper, Inc. It's total return 13.65 percent. The Brazilian Equity Fund, ( ticker symbol BZL) was off 50.23 percent over that same time frame. But, as the markets have moved so have the rankings. For the month of March, for example, the Brazilian Equity Fund was ranked No.1, with a total return of (plus) 35.69 percent, while the Caribbean Basin Fund slid to the No.10 positive with its (pus) 8.35 percent total return.
If you've an interest in closed-end funds that invest their assets in Latin America, and, like buying these funds at bargain basement prices---that is, when they are selling at a discount to their net asset value (NAV) ---here are a few of them that were selling at discounts to their NAVs as of March 23rd: The Brazilian Equity Fund, (ticker symbol BZL), a single-country fund selling at a 6 percent discount to its NAV; the Latin American Discovery Fund, (ticker symbol LDF), a regional fund oriented toward emerging companies and selling at a 8.5 percent discount to its NAV; the Mexico Fund, ( ticker symbol MXF), this single-country fund was selling at a 22 percent discount to its NAV; and, the Chile Fund ( ticker symbol CH),another single country fund also selling at a discount of 22 percent to its NAV.
Even with their price appeal, however, closed-end Latin funds are not for everyone. Don Cassidy, senior research analyst at Lipper, Inc., says that these kinds of funds are best suited for the aggressive investor who is disciplined and understands market volatility.
"I think that you have to either be a very long-term investor who believes in the developing world markets and are willing to hold on over the long run. Or, you have to be a reasonable short-term investor who is going to play a cycle. But no matter what, you really have to decide who you are before you invest and then maintain the discipline to follow through with your investment plan," Cassidy said.
To learn more about closed-end funds, the Closed-End Fund Association has a great 32-page booklet, Understanding the Advantages of Closed-End Funds, that's free by written request. Address: Brochure, Closed-End Fund Association, Inc., P.O. Box 28037, Kansas City, MO 64188. Or, is available on their web site, address: www.closed-endfunds.com.
You can also visit Herzfeld's site at www.herzfeld.com for daily prices, symbols and links to about 500 different closed-end funds.
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