Thrilla in Manila?

09/08/2015 10:00 am EST


Benjamin Shepherd

Analyst, Breakthrough Tech Profits, Global Income Edge and Personal Finance

Amidst China worries, Asian markets have been at their most volatile since 2011. But one country that has done better than most recently is the Philippines, where the nations benchmark index is off just 1.3% so far this year, observes Benjamin Shepherd, editor of Pacific Wealth.

One of the main reasons the country's stocks have done so well is that the country's economy is still humming along in relatively high gear.

Gross domestic product in the archipelago rose 5.6% in second quarter, just shy of the government's 5.7% forecast but up from 5% growth in the prior quarter.

That makes it the third-fastest growing economy in the Asia-Pacific region, behind just China and Vietnam.

A major reason for the solid growth in the Philippines is its diversified economy. Like most countries in the region, the Philippines are fairly dependent on exports for growth.

But unlike most of the others, China isn't the country's biggest trading partner. In fact, Japan is typically the country's top trading partner accounting for 14.5% of total trade, following by the US at about 13%.

China actually comes in third at just 12% and it imports more from the Philippines then it exports to the country.

Overall, the ASEAN nations—which don't include China—are the country's largest trading partners at nearly a quarter of total trade.

Another major plus for the country's economy is that it has a surprisingly advanced manufacturing base.

Electronic products such as semiconductors are the Philippines' largest export, accounting for more than 40% of total exports.

Raw commodities such as crude oil or ore barely figure into the export picture, leaving it insulated from the crushing decline we've seen recently.

The country also gets a boost from remittances; last year more than ten million Filipinos working outside the country sent $24.3 billion home, accounting for about a tenth of the country's GDP.

Between the lesser role China plays in the country's trade and the boost it's getting from chip demand for tablets and smartphones, as well as all the money being sent home, the Philippines—the 'thrilla in Manilla'—is economically well positioned.

Barring a total collapse of the Chinese economy, which would wreak havoc on most of the world, the Philippines will keep chugging along.

The iShares MSCI Philippines ETF (EPHE)—which we own in our Conservative Portfolio—holds a basket of 45 stocks, which is fairly representative of the country's stock market.

About 40% of assets are in financial companies such as banks and real estate firms, followed by industrials at 21% and telecoms at 12%. Utilities and consumer stocks make up most of the fund's other holdings.

So while China might be a major driver of global growth, there are still plenty of other opportunities in Asia. Now that we're past the initial panic, the markets are obviously realizing that the Philippines have promise, no matter what happens in China.

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