The overlooked BRIC that's been the best bet

Over the course of the past year, exchange-traded funds that tracked the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have had roller coaster-type movements. Sometimes, that can provide occasions for opportunistic investment.

Which BRIC has had the biggest bounce?

We looked at the iShares MSCI Brazil Capped, Market Vectors Russia, iShares MSCI India and iShares China Large Cap ETFs. We measured performance against how much higher each ETF was from its respective 52-week lows—or, in other words, its relative momentum—to see which emerging market nations investors have been favoring amid the volatile ride.

The tale of the EM ETF tape

It's not Russia. With oil prices falling, and Russia's own government admitting that its economy will contract by 0.8 percent in 2015, shares of Market Vectors Russia just hit fresh 52-week lows on Dec. 4, and have lost 35 percent of their value in 2014.

The picture is slightly better when it comes to Brazil. While the iShares MSCI Brazil Capped has lost 12 percent year to date, it did manage to close approximately 3 percent above its 52-week low.

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Meanwhile, investors who focused on India and China have reaped much larger rewards, at least when it comes to the bounce from yearly lows.

BRIC flags
Getty Images

The iShares China Large Cap has rebounded 27 percent from its March 20 lows, bringing its year-to-date gain to 8 percent. But it's the iShares MSCI India that takes the BRIC crown when it comes to performance in 2014. Since Feb. 3, it has managed to gain 40 percent, and has done so with a fairly steady climb. Many credit the anticipation and eventual rise to power of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is viewed as being pro-business and economic growth.

As for how some of the key developed market ETFs have fared, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF has gained nearly 20 percent since its low on Feb. 5, and the iShares MSCI Germany has gained 14 percent since its low on Oct. 16, so this is an ETF that is just starting to get some traction over the last couple of months. A big question remains about just how much the economy can grow given all the headwinds facing the European continent. There's also what policy actions the European Central Bank may take in terms of its own monetary stimulus program in the coming months.

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For those investors that base trades on macro, or larger global economic themes, picking the right geographic investments has yielded superior returns, but it remains to be seen if those trends will continue into 2015.