The Next Big Thing: Emerging Asia

September 23, 2009

Cris Sholto Heaton’s recent article on investing in the small Asian countries outside China and
India brings a welcome change to the usual run-of-the-mill emerging markets coverage.

You can read the whole story here.

I’ve long been a big proponent of investing in so-called Asian frontier countries. As Cris points out, “These smaller countries complement China and
. They should benefit from the rise of their larger neighbors and the region as a whole, while offering exposure to different themes and sectors.”

In fact, when I talked to Franklin Templeton’s outgoing emerging market fund manager Mark Mobius earlier this year, he was in the process of putting more of his own personal money into these miniature high-growth markets (you can read that story here, but you’ll need to have access to Index Publications’ subscription-only monthly ETFR publication).

Cris highlights
as a location rich in the potential for returns. I think he’s right. After tumbling around 70 percent in value early last year, the market has staged a bit of a recovery so far this year, and stocks look attractive there now.

The Market Vectors Vietnam (NYSEArca: VNM) exchange-traded fund, which was launched only last month, is already up 12 percent. That’s the kind of dynamic place
is, with huge swings and wild statistics. What do you expect when half the population is under 25?

Indeed, one of the things that makes
Vietnam so appealing right now is that it was only recently that the country took a dive. In emerging markets investing, you often find that a giant correction after a bubble brings with it all sorts of useful policy and financial innovations that, ultimately, lead to more stability and continued growth. This was the case with
after 1997.

With that in mind, I found it unfortunate that Cris spent so much time discussing Malaysia and so little on
has gone through something of ruckus lately, with a militant left-wing government seizing power from a democratically elected right-wing one.

While it’s not exactly desirable to have a forced government in place, the country’s new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, is an impressive leader. Educated at
Oxford University in
, Vejjajiva is a calmly spoken, economically sharp policymaker with a heavy international focus.

Unemployment in
is now falling and gross domestic product growth is on course to climb again slightly. Property prices are rising, too, particularly in the south of the country and in
Bangkok, its capital.

With the iShares MSCI Thailand Index Fund (NYSEArca: THD) up 76 percent year-to-date, just 16 percent below its 18-month-ago price of $50 a share, there’s good reason to believe that this ETF has found the support it needs to continue to outperform traditional emerging market benchmarks.

It’s often been said that Asian frontier markets are something of a 2010 story. With such impressive strength in large emerging markets this year, I think we are on course to hit that forecast.


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