The 10 best performing stock markets of 2013

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The world's stock markets have on the whole delivered solid returns for investors in 2013, but the list of the best performers includes some surprising names...

Investors brave enough to plough their cash into shares in Venezuela would have quintupled their money in 2013.

The Caracas Stock Exchange, which lists just 15 Venezuelan shares, has returned a whopping 452pc in 2013, according to data firm Morningstar (NasdaqGS: MORN - news) .

But British investors have missed out on these stellar returns, as none of the 1,500-odd funds available to UK investors has a single penny in shares listed on the exchange.

The strong stock market returns have come despite the anti-capitalist policies of the former president, Hugo Chavez, who died in March. Mr Chavez was not a fan of the private sector and during his 14-year reign regularly seized company assets. In turn this discouraged foreign investors from putting their money into companies in the South American (Frankfurt: SS7.F - news) region.

But investors should be cautious about history repeating itself in 2014. The main reason for the Venezuelan stock market's strong performance has been the fear that the country is on the verge of a currency crisis, rather than investors warming to its new president, Nicolás Maduro.

"Domestic investors are seeking to protect their bolivars from devaluation and inflation by buying the few stocks available on the local exchange pushing up prices," said Barclays Wealth. Venezuela’s government devalued the bolivar by 32pc in February.

There are other surprises among the top 10 stock markets of 2013. A number of debt-ridden economies, such as Iceland and Greece, make the list, with rises of 38pc and 35pc respectively. Ireland (Other OTC: IRLD - news) , which suffered heavily during the financial crash but has been able to borrow on the open market again, also features, with its stock market returning 35pc.

Elsewhere two frontier markets, Zambia and Nigeria, also make the list. Such markets have been touted as the next generation of emerging economies.

Both nations have rapidly growing young populations, so in theory should benefit from the rise in domestic consumption, which should lead to more foreign investors putting money into their stock markets.

Less of a surprise is to see Japan's Jasdaq index and America's technology-heavy Nasdaq exchange in the top 10.

Country and stock market Rise in share prices in 2013 Venezuela Caracas Stock Exchange 452pc Japan Jasdaq index 51.1pc Iceland OMXI All Share 38.5pc Zambia Lusaka Stock Exchange 37.2pc Ireland Irish Stock Exchange 35.2pc Nigeria Nigerian Stock Exchange 34.9pc Greece Athens Exchange 34.5pc Argentina Mercado de Valores 33.9pc US Nasdaq index 33.7pc Pakistan Karachi Stock Exchange 31.8pc Source: Morningstar

= How British investors could have made money =

There are a number of investment funds which backed some of the best stock markets over the past 12 months, data from FE Trustnet shows.

The data shows that Irish shares were popular, with a total of 246 funds having investments in the country. One fund with a big stake in Ireland is the Ignis European Smaller Companies fund, managed by Ian Ormiston. It has 15pc of its money in the country, some of it in Ryanair, the airline.

"The financial crisis and the ‘Irish discount’ created an opportunity to invest in long-term winners which will enjoy strong operational gearing [translation of rising sales into profits] as the recovery gathers pace," said Mr Ormiston.

Nigerian shares were also in vogue with fund managers; around 20 emerging market and frontier market funds have investments there. The Charlemagne Magna Africa fund has 28pc in the country, while the JP Morgan Africa equity fund has 22pc.

But for other regions that made the top 10, such as Greece, Iceland, Pakistan and Iceland, only a small minority of fund managers made profits from the strong stock market performances.

One stock picker backing Greece is Barry Norris, manager of the Argonaut European Alpha fund. Mr Norris has bought shares in a number of Greek banks in recent months ; he thinks they could be one of the best investments over the next 12 months.

The Greek stock market has risen by 34.5pc

"The best time to invest in a country is often when its economy is emerging from recession and all of the bad news is in the rear view mirror,” said Mr Norris.

For the more established stock markets in the top 10 America and Japan fund investors have a much wider choice. However, the majority of such funds run by human stock pickers have struggled to beat the overall markets. Investors would have been better off with a "passive" or "tracker" fund, which merely aims to replicate the performance of a stock market as opposed to beating it.

The average Japan fund has returned 25pc, undershooting the stock market's return of 51pc. The average performance of a US fund manager is 29pc, which fails to beat the Nasdaq index's return of 34pc.

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