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When China's economy slows, for instance, it drags down financial markets in Brazil, which counts China as the top customer for its exported goods.
But if a frontier market like Ghana ran into trouble, Vietnam and Kuwait wouldn't even notice.
As U.S. markets recently turned turbulent over concerns about the Fed, Ablin watched one frontier fund, the iShares MSCI Frontier 100, climb higher day after day. He recently bought a bunch of shares in the fund for his children and his BMO investment team is mulling a shift into frontier funds, too.
Still, a frontier market like Pakistan can leave some investors skittish. Osama bin Laden hid in Pakistan before he was killed in a U.S. raid in 2011. The country is often at loggerheads with neighboring India. And Pakistan has been the target of U.S. drone strikes against suspected Islamic militants near the border with Afghanistan.
Wells Fargo's Lynch and many others in the investment world argue that the good news out of Pakistan is going unnoticed. An election last month brought Nawaz Sharif to leadership as prime minister. Sharif is considered pro-business and has pledged to take on unemployment, inflation and corruption. In early July, his government lined up a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
All of that has helped drive up Pakistan's stock market 11 percent this month. For the year, it's up 28 percent. By contrast, China's Shanghai Stock Exchange composite index has lost 10 percent this year, and Brazil's Bovespa has dropped 22 percent.
Still, a surging economy can often prove to be a dud of an investment, says Christian Deseglise, managing director at HSBC Global Asset Management.
Take China. Over the past five years, its economy has expanded by more than 10 percent on average. And over those same five years, China's stock market has lost 2 percent. Poorly-managed companies can still struggle to turn profits even as an improving economy sends them more customers.
"Some of these countries will have economies that do well but markets that do poorly, and vice versa," Deseglise says.
That's the main reason investors say they avoid staking too much on a single frontier country. It's too easy to imagine something going wrong. So, investors often buy a little of all of them, spreading their bets over Africa, Europe and Asia.