Halyk's increasing reliance on foreign wholesale borrowing to finance expansion reveals an intrinsic risk facing fast-growing frontier economies in general. "Rapid inflow of foreign money fuels asset inflation," Thompson explains, "leaving balance sheets vulnerable to market correction." In such a scenario, local currency can come under pressure, and the bank's cost of capital can then exceed the value of the local assets it's financing.

Jim Harmon thinks allocating 5% into a well-diversified equity portfolio of frontier shares makes sense for high-net-worth investors. But for the rest of us, regardless of how dizzying the gains, frontier market exposure should be considered a nonessential, high-risk play. Those who want a piece of it should rely solely on seasoned international or global fund managers who have shown that they know how to navigate these hot, volatile markets.      

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