Make A Play For Asia’s Frontier

By Aaron Levitt | April 29, 2014 AAA

China and India get much of investors' attention when looking to Asia - and for good reason. Improving infrastructure, favorable demographics and rising incomes are all positive signs.

Yet, in recent years the growth stories in China and India haven’t panned out as well as investors have hoped. Despite their promise, stocks in both nations continue to be stuck in neutral.

Nonetheless, Asia still offers plenty of high-octane opportunity if investors are willing to tread into Asia’s other tiger and dragon economies. From the Philippines and Malaysia to Indonesia and Vietnam, Asia features a cast of nations that have similar positive characteristics.

Rich Natural Resource, Favorable Demographics

Much of Asia's frontier markets are blessed with an abundance of natural resources. These include various untapped mineral reserves, traditional and renewable energy potential, as well as vast agricultural opportunities. As the world continues to use natural resources at breakneck speeds, the demand for goods from frontier markets will only increase, strengthening their position in the global economy

There are also favorable demographics to consider, notably young and working-aged populations. Nearly, one person in five is between 15 and 24 years of age in places like Cambodia, Laos, and Bangladesh, translating to a median age of 25. By comparison, Japan's median age is 35 and labor forces and Japan and South Korea are expected to shrink. At the same time, the percentage of people joining the workforce in these nations is surging by double digits and should continue to do so past 2020. In the case of Vietnam, that rate is more than 20%. This advantage will help drive future growth as well as consumerism.

Analysts at investment manager Matthews Asia estimate that this “demographic dividend” will add an extra 1.5% annually to Vietnam’s GDP growth. The asset manager predicts similar boosts for many of Asia emerging economies

And that GDP will be swift across the board. Economists at Moody’s Investors Service predict that annual growth in Sri Lanka will top 6% over the next five years, while Vietnam should see 5.5% annual GDP growth. All in all, Asia’s frontier economies should average around 7% in economic growth as they industrialize and mature. Given this potential it’s no wonder why the equity benchmarks of Asia’s frontier are up more than 120% since the start of 2013.

Accessing Asia’s New Leaders

Given the torrid growth prospects, investors may want to look towards Asia’s unknowns for growth. However, gaining access can prove difficult. Broad emerging markets funds or even Asia-specific funds such as the SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific (NYSE Arca:GMF) only include minimal exposure to these nations. The best broad play would have to be the Global X FTSE ASEAN 40 ETF (NYSE Arca:ASEA).

The ETF tracks stocks from the ASEAN Free Trade Area, which includes Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. This gives investors exposure to some of the fastest growing nations in Asia. According to analysts' predictions, ASEAN nations will see average annual GDP growth of 5.5% until 2017. At 0.65% fee, the ETF makes a cheap choice to play that growth. For investors looking for more of Asia’s true frontier, Global X also sponsors the Central Asia & Mongolia ETF (NYSE Arcs:AZIA).

Indonesia represents a perfect opportunity to play the next China. Strong demographics, fiscal responsibility and natural resource wealth will secure the nation's place in history. However, recent weakness in EM stocks have made the nation’s equities quite attractive. The $451 million iShares MSCI Indonesia (NYSE Arca:EIDO) is the biggest and cheapest ETF to track Indonesia. EIDO currently has 108 different Indonesian equities. At the same time, the Market Vectors Indonesia Small-Cap ETF (NYSE Arca:IDXJ) allows investors to hone in on the domestic Indonesian economy.

Those interested in investing in Vietnam's growing economy should consider the Market Vectors Vietnam ETF (NYSE Arca:VNM).

For investors looking for more “stability” in emerging Asia, both Singapore and Malaysia make ideal choices. Singapore is quickly emerging as the financial capital of Southeast Asia, while Malaysia is becoming a commodity powerhouse. Both nation can be tapped via the iShares MSCI Malaysia Index ETF (NYSE Arca:EWM) and iShares MSCI Singapore Index ETF (NYSE Arca:EWS).

The Bottom Line

With economic growth slowing in China and India it may be time to look towards Asia’s up-and-comers. Favorable demographics and a foundation for growth should provide plenty of opportunities. For long-term investors, the time to pounce is now and regional and country-specific ETFs are a good starting point.

 

 

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