The BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China may lay claim to the world’s economic future. But BRICs aren’t necessarily the top performers in the global stock market stakes. After a blistering 2009, the Brazilian stock market appears to have run out of steam. China’s stock market has been among the worst performers on the planet over the last six months. Only Russia and India are showing positive returns in 2010 — and both are underperforming the uncharacteristically strong U.S. stock market.
The Next BRICs: The “N11”
When Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill anointed the BRIC economies back in 2001, his choice of countries to include wasn’t as obvious as it may seem today. If China and India were no brainers just by dint of their sheer size, countries like Indonesia and Mexico could have made the case to be included as much as Brazil or Russia.
So in 2005, Jim O’Neill and his colleagues compiled a list called the “Next 11” (N11)— countries Goldman Sachs thinks can rival the BRICs in terms of investment prospects over the coming decades. Goldman Sachs’ list includes Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.
The N11 markets are still mostly off of the screens of U.S. investors. But thanks to an explosion in ETFs over the past year or so, you now can access six of the top N11 stock markets — Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Vietnam, Turkey and Egypt. And with both a Philippine and Pakistani ETF in the works, that palate of investment opportunities is set to increase.
The BRICs will likely dominate the landscape of the global economy just by the dint of their sheer size. But great fortunes are made by buying undervalued assets low and selling overvalued assets high. And it’s likely that several of the up-and-coming N11 countries will put more money in your brokerage account than investing in the high-profile BRIC countries that grace the covers of magazines.
I covered two of the N11 markets — South Korea and Mexico — in recent editions of The Global Guru. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be covering each of the eight N11 economies that you can — or soon will be able to — invest in with a click of the mouse.
Indonesia: The Fifth “BRIC”?
As the world’s largest Muslim nation with a population of almost 248 million, Indonesia is the fourth-most populous country in the world after China, India, and the United States. Already among the top 20 economies in the world in terms of GDP, the Indonesian economy grew at more than 4% in 2009, making it one of only a handful of major economies to grow through the “Great Recession.” With its abundant natural resources, Indonesia has recently also benefited tremendously from the China-driven commodities boom.
Much of the credit for the recent rise goes to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known better by his initials SBY, a former army general who last year won a landslide re-election as Indonesia’s president for a second, five-year term. Since taking office in 2003, the current government has ended its civil war with renegade provinces; brought state spending under control; and launched a popular anti-corruption drive, jailing senior politicians and central bank officials. Indonesian President SBY’s ambitious plans for Indonesia over the next five years include pledges to boost economic growth to 7% by 2014, reduce the poverty level to 8%, and decrease unemployment to 5%. The government believes that a stable administration, lower capital costs and a government plan to spend as much as $34 billion to build roads, ports and power plants by 2017 will combine to almost double Indonesia’s $433-billion economy in the next five years to $800 billion. These are big goals. Indonesia last experienced a 7% growth rate in 1996, just prior to the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
All of this is a remarkable turnaround for a country that, after the Asian crisis of 1997, was widely viewed as Asia’s biggest basket case. Foreign investors stayed clear. Western analysts viewed Indonesia as the next Pakistan, rather than the next China. But after the collapse of the Suharto regime, Indonesia enacted sound fiscal and monetary policies that led to a relatively quick recovery and years of strong growth. And unlike many developed and developing countries that binged on debt, Indonesia worked hard to reduce its government debt-to-GDP ratio. Since 1999, government debt as a percentage of GDP has declined to about 30%. Hard currency reserves grew from $36.3 billion to $56.9 billion, even as per capita income doubled during SBY’s first term to $2,237 in 2008. Indonesia remained one of the few countries in the world with budget deficits that are lower than 3.0% of GDP.
Morgan Stanley has proposed that as Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia should be the next country to join the elite group of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) emerging economic powers. Indonesian government officials have embraced the same message. As Emil Salim, a presidential adviser and former cabinet minister summed it up: “Our target is to put another ‘I’ into BRIC… Achieving that in five years is possible.”
Indonesia: The World’s No. 1 Stock Market?
Indonesia has been off the radar for most investors. But Indonesia is one of the few global markets that managed to maintain its momentum into 2010, with the benchmark Jakarta composite Index hitting an all-time high in recent days. The Van Eck’s Market Vectors Indonesia ETF (IDX) has more than doubled since its launch — far outpacing the U.S. S&P 500 (GSPC), and outperforming even BRIC star Brazil. It’s also been the single-best performer in Q1 of 2010.
Old Asia hands often react with skepticism when I speak about investment opportunities like Indonesia at investment forums like the Las Vegas Money Show. After all, for all of its progress, Indonesia is a deeply corrupt place with many challenges to overcome. But in many ways, Russia could be described in the same way. Yet Russia has been by far the best performing among the BRIC economies’ stock markets over the past ten years.
In the topsy-turvy world of global investments, it would not surprise me if Indonesia took Russia’s crown for top performer over the next ten years.