No one market is going to have the solution to the challenges of tomorrow, so its best to find strong global companies that are established in developed and developing markets alike, observes the staff at Motley Fool UK.
Despite recent slowdowns, economic growth is proceeding at a ferocious rate in emerging economies, as their middle classes—those with significant disposable incomes—expand rapidly and seek outlets for their newfound wealth.
Here's how to get access to emerging-market growth without having to endure the risk and complexity of owning shares in foreign companies.
Unstable tax regimes, financing problems, corruption, local infrastructure restrictions and a lack of diversity and scale all mean that investing directly in emerging market companies is not for the faint-hearted. Many emerging stock markets have fallen in recent years—even as their underlying economies have expanded.
The good news is that there are plenty of top quality FTSE 100 companies who are doing the hard work for you by operating in emerging markets and giving you access to these countries' burgeoning middle classes.
I've identified five British blue chips that offer all the safety and stability of investing in the UK, but which get most of their income and growth from emerging markets. The five shares fit into four sectors, all of which will benefit as the world's population becomes more middle class.
The wealthier people become, the more banking services they require. My favorite banking share is HSBC Holdings (HBC), which generated just 21% of its profits in Europe in 2011—with the remainder coming from Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
HSBC avoided the worst of the credit crunch and remains very profitable. It is reasonably priced on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 9.7, and offers an attractive yield of 4.6%, with modest increases in pre-tax profits and the dividend expected this year.
Unilever (UL) has more than 1,000 brands, and the company reckons that 2 billion people use at least one of them every day. Among its brands are names like Flora, Cif, Vaseline, Hellmann's, and Lipton—products that are known all over the world.
Unilever has a long and distinguished history of operating successfully in emerging markets. In 2011, 41% of its €46 billion turnover came from its Asia, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe region. Of the remainder, 33% came from the Americas and 26% from Western Europe.
Unilever is very successful at localizing its offering to suit different markets, but its scale and diversity helps insulate it from any country-specific issues that might cause big problems for smaller local companies.
Unilever isn't cheap, with a P/E of around 19, but it offers a reasonable forecast yield of 3.4%, coupled with earnings that have proved very resilient over the last five years.
Cigarettes and Alcohol
As the populations of emerging markets become wealthier, they tend to devote more of their money to emulating the consumption habits of wealthy Westerners—especially when it comes to cigarettes and alcohol.
Few companies understand this better than Diageo (DEO) and British American Tobacco (BTI). Diageo's portfolio of premium spirit brands includes Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and Captain Morgan, and its emerging-market sales grew by 18% last year to account for 40% of its business.
Western Europe is British American Tobacco's least profitable region, accounting for just 22% of its profits in 2011. The remainder is split between Asia-Pacific (28%), The Americas (26%), and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (24%).
While smoking may be declining in Western countries, lower standards of education and public health care mean that many smokers are not even aware of the risks of smoking in some large emerging markets, and anti-smoking legislation is almost nonexistent.
Both companies boast high profit margins and are able to insist on premium pricing in new markets thanks to the power of their brands. Investing in tobacco may put your ethical compass into a spin, but I believe it will continue to be profitable for many years to come.
Infrastructure restrictions are a common feature of expanding economies, which can experience near exponential increases in demand for basic commodities such as coal, oil, gas, and iron ore (for steel).
There are a few international infrastructure companies, but a safer alternative is to invest part of your portfolio in one of the big global miners. My pick is Rio Tinto (RIO), which I like for its high-quality assets and global diversity.
Many of Rio's operations are in politically safe countries, and although its income is biased towards China (30%), a further 32% comes from other Asia-Pacific countries, and 32% comes from Europe, North America, Canada, and Australia.
Rio is on my buy list and its shares currently look cheap to me, with a P/E of just 6.2 and a forecast yield of 3.3%—quite decent for a miner.