China Steams Ahead, Greece Vents

03/11/2010 12:00 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL

Igor Greenwald

Chief Investment Strategist, MLP Profits

Poor, poor Greece. Although apparently it's not poor because a Byzantine bureaucracy has let expenses spiral out of control, without stooping to collect sufficient taxes.

To hear Prime Minister George Papandreou tell it on his send-no-money-now tour, the real culprits are "unprincipled speculators" who are making Greek debt so unappealing to hesitant buyers. As opposed to the principled speculators who bet on rivers of milk and honey and mountains of feta cheese in nations with fictitious budgets.

The European itch to blame and tame markets is a known tic, the polar opposite of the American urge to do away with government. But government and markets keep on keeping on, and seem to work best when they keep watch over each other.

They know this in China, where people growing rich thanks to a market economy can still recall the costs of anarchy. And so what if government stimulus around the world helped Chinese exports soar 45% year over year.

Incumbent politicians may have trouble winning elections these days, but they could probably carry a referendum against going back to last March to experiment with laissez-faire economics. Within the range of policies tried throughout history, a bit of pump priming in a pinch passes for enlightenment.

The annual National People's Congress confirmed the Chinese leadership's expansive mood, even as government pledged to crack down on property speculation some are calling a bubble. The yuan will eventually rise, China's central bank chief confirmed, but not too soon and not too fast.

Until it does, China's economy will continue to favor exporters over consumers. But a little less so every day. And even a gradual shift can provide a powerful impulse. According to Bloomberg, the single best-performing emerging-market stock over the last year belongs to Skyworth Digital Holdings (Hong Hong: 0751), a leading Chinese TV manufacturer. The stock was worth 65 Hong Kong cents a year ago, but now fetches HK$.84.

In the same vein, Ryan Irvine likes the risk/reward ratio for a Chinese sneaker maker listed in Toronto. It's a market booming almost as much as Chinese purchases of autos and appliances, and without comparable subsidies.

In this week's Q&A, John Connor describes how emerging-market demand is lifting Russian stocks. Russia is the best performing BRIC so far this year, incidentally, though Moscow's doubling over the last year still trails India's 120% levitation.

Carlton Delfeld prefers the small caps in Brazil as well as a Turkish market held back by political jitters. The Turks are in better financial shape than the Greeks, though they still can't borrow quite as cheaply.

Meanwhile, closer to home, a couple of hybrid securities backed by growing corporate cash flows continue to yield in the double digits, writes Carla Pasternak. That's more than Greece still pays, and much safer.

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