Some Investors Get The Rhythm of Latin Funds

This year, the samba and stock market go hand in hand.

Of the top 20 equity funds ranked by Morningstar, the Chicago company that tracks mutual funds, 17 link up to Latin America. The Morgan Stanley Latin American fund, for example, is up almost 40 percent.

But that doesn't necessarily mean you should rush out and buy one, says Morningstar's Kevin McDevitt. Single-country or regional funds can plummet as fast as they surged upward.

"You must go in to stay awhile, usually for at least five years," he suggests. With a patient mind-set, even heavy losses early on won't rattle you.

How bad can losses be? One of this year's top gainers, Merrill Lynch Latin America B (up 34.79 percent; 800-637-3863), fell almost 16 percent in 1994, in part because of currency problems in Mexico. It slumped another 25 percent in 1995, finishing the year not far from where the fund began in in 1991.

In 1997, "The funds are up in large part because Latin American nations have begun to control inflation," Mr. McDevitt says.

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