Where the Bulls Roam Overseas

05/03/2012 12:30 pm EST


Igor Greenwald

Chief Investment Strategist, MLP Profits

The BRICs may be sick, but these four emerging markets are printing new highs daily, writes MoneyShow.com senior editor Igor Greenwald.

Are emerging markets yesterday’s news? If your definition starts with Brazil and ends with China, you might be forgiven for thinking so.

As colleague Howard Gold pointed out last week, the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have had it tough of late.

They’re hardly crumbling per se, but each of those markets has been slowed by structural problems.

I’m not sure if cows will really graze on Jupiter before the Shanghai Composite revisits its 2007 highs, as Howard suggests. But assuming 7% annualized returns, it will take 14 years—and presumably, a successful switch from a statist export-driven economy to one led by entrepreneurs and consumers.

Meanwhile, Brazil has had a little too much consumption recently, and its overextended economy and stock markets have been paying the price, with Sao Paulo’s Bovespa index down 9% since mid-March. Russia’s Micex is down 11% over the same span, with more stagnation on tap for Vladimir Putin’s oil-soaked kleptocracy. India’s Sensex may be up 12% year-to-date, but it’s down 6% since February 21 on worries about red tape, corruption, and inflation.

And yet with all that, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund ETF (EEM) is up 11.8% year-to-date, a nose ahead of the 11.5% increase in 2012 for the S&P 500. The EEM and the S&P 500 are also neck-and-neck since the bottom in March 2009, with each delivering a double.

How are emerging markets keeping up with the BRICs weighing them down? They’re getting a big boost from some newer growth engines.

Thailand’s SET index has rallied 21% this year, to a 16-year high, as the economy recovers from last year’s devastating floods. Sample business headline: “Second-largest hypermarket stock at record; offering heavily oversubscribed.”

In 1996, Thailand had a big current-account deficit that would prove incredibly costly as the Asian crisis hit. Now it’s an export-driven economy living off its autos and electronics industries, as well as commercial agriculture.

The Philippines’ PSEi Index is up nearly 20% year-to-date, to an all-time high, with the economy forecast to grow 5% this year thanks to increased government spending and income gains from business-process outsourcing.

Keeping up with the S&P? Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite has nearly quadrupled since its October 2008 low. It’s up 10% this year. The boom-or-bust Ho Chih Minh index in Vietnam has boomed 34% year-to-date. For all these Southeast Asian nations, China’s gradual currency revaluation and turn toward consumption is a big long-term positive.

Meanwhile, a bit closer to home, Colombia’s benchmark index is up 15% year-to-date, thanks to a 44% gain by Ecopetrol (EC)—and 58% for Ecopetrol’s US-traded ADR. You don’t need to be a Secret Service man to figure out that this is why they’re dancing late in Cartagena.

The Global X/Interbolsa FTSE Colombia 20 ETF (GXG) earns a 99.2 relative rating from StockCharts Technical Rank, just above the 99.1 for the iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index Fund (EPHE), but below the 99.4 for the iShares MSCI Thailand ETF (THD).

Among the hundreds of US-traded ETFs, only the homebuilders and the biotechs have been this hot. The S&P 500 SPDRs (SPY) is at 84.7 and the Vanguard Total Bond Market (BND) is at 33.9, for comparison.

Meanwhile, iShares Brazil (EWZ) is an ice-cold 9.5, and the PowerShares India Portfolio (PIN) is pinned at a pathetic 4.7. That’s a lot of skepticism built into what are still very dynamic markets and economies.

It’s true that many US multinationals have lots of promising exposure to the fast-growing economies, while offering a measure of stability few overseas markets can match. But they also remain reliant on the slow-growing US economy, as well as disaster areas like Europe. It’s possible to get a lot of overseas exposure that way without knowing exactly what you’re exposed to.

It’s also true that many emerging markets, with the notable exception of the big recent winners like Colombia and Thailand, continue to feel the heavy hand of highly interventionist governments. That’s obviously a long-term liability, but in times of stress and woe, an activist government can come in quite handy.

Witness the action in Guggenheim China Real Estate ETF (TAO), which is up 10% since March 29 on hopes that easier government policy will bail out the previously ailing developers. Those hopes may not pan out. But for now they have the Shanghai Composite up 11% year-to-date, not too shabby for an emerging-markets laggard.

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