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A KFC outlet (BRIAN BOHANNON)
A KFC outlet (BRIAN BOHANNON)

For emerging markets, look to KFC Add to ...

If you're still looking for that ideal way to play emerging markets, but you're worried about Chinese accounting and an overheated commodities market, Yum Brands Inc. is worthy of a closer look. Sure, it's a fast-food restaurant chain that owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut - brands you might associate with North American suburban strip malls.

But it has been making a big splash into emerging markets - China, in particular - and its fourth quarter results, released after markets closed on Wednesday, underline these efforts. Outside the United States, Yum opened four restaurants a day, on average, in 2010. And, it opened 262 restaurants in China alone in the fourth quarter, bringing the total to 3,906.

If that sounds like an overly aggressive pace of expansion, Yum's sales figures suggest that there is quite an appetite for its tacos, chicken pieces and pizza dishes in China: There, same store sales (or sales at stores open for at least one year) rose 8 per cent, compared to just 5 per cent for stores located in the United States.

This performance hasn't been lost on investors. The stock has surged 42 per cent over the past 12 months and has risen a total of 106 per cent over the past five years, after factoring in dividends. By comparison, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets index exchange traded fund , a basket of emerging market stocks, has risen just 48 per cent over the past five years and its one-year return is about half of Yum's.

Still, the stock doesn't exactly sport a nosebleed valuation, trading at 19.5-times trailing earnings. And when you consider its growth potential and obvious success in marketing its products to Asian tastes, this could well be the best stock to gain exposure to emerging markets.

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