When it comes to investing in Latin America, the focus for many portfolios is Brazil. After all, as the B in Brazil, Russia, India and China, the nation is poised to be one of the next major global super powers. Broad-based Latin American funds like the SPDR S&P Emerging Latin America (NYSE:GML) often have heavy allocations to the LatAm leader. The SPDR holds nearly 63% of its assets in Brazil. Abundant natural resources, growing middle class and strong robust trade agreements drives the overall investment thesis. While Brazil will play a major role in the region's future growth going forward, investors may be sacrificing gains if they ignore some of the other smaller opportunities in the region. One such ignored opportunity exists in Argentina.
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No Investor Love
Despite being the second largest economy in South America, Argentina gets zero investor attention, and that could be a good thing for those willing to tread off the beaten path. While technically classified as a frontier market, the nation features many of the same catalysts that are propelling other LatAm countries like Chile into the stratosphere. Already possessing a relatively high quality of life and literacy rates, the government has begun the task of upgrading Argentina's infrastructure through increased investment. The nation's railways, energy production and telecommunication capabilities will all see improvements. Overall, the Argentinian economy expanded by more than 8% in 2010, a monumental increase over the 0.8% growth rate during 2009. (For related reading, see Forging Frontier Markets.)
Perhaps the real reason to be bullish of the ignored nation, is its wealth of natural resources. Argentina is already an agricultural powerhouse, and is currently one of the largest exporters of beef, citrus, corn, soybeans and wheat. The nation stands to benefit from the growing worldwide need for increased food. In addition, Argentina has the potential to be one of the biggest natural gas producers in the world. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Argentina has 774 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of technically recoverable shale gas resources, and is ranked third in the world in reserves. The nation's new Oil Plus and Gas Plus Programs have attracted major oil producers such as Apache (NYSE:APA) and ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), and should help get gas production moving very soon. Finally, the Andes Mountain Range provide Argentina with rich mineral deposits including copper, tin, lead, zinc, gold, silver and uranium.
Taking a Trip to Buenos Aires
While investing in Argentina may not be a slam dunk due to inflationary pressures, the nation's future roles as a natural gas and food exporter are worth a bet. The Global X FTSE Argentina 20 ETF (Arca:ARGT) tracks 20 of the most liquid stocks within the nation including MercadoLibre (NASDAQ:MELI) and Macro Bank (NYSE:BMA). However, the fund has yet to catch on with investors. Individual stocks could be a better choice for investors. (For further insight into utilizing foreign financial instruments, read Finding Fortune In Foreign-Stock ETFs.)
Farming giant Cresud SA (Nasdaq:CRESY) can be used as a play on the growth in Argentina's agricultural sector. The firm owns 18 farms in Argentina, and is a major producer of livestock, soybeans, corn and wheat. In addition, Cresud owns 9 farms in Brazil and several other countries across South America. Investors can also use Adecoagro SA (NYSE:AGRO) which has significant acreage in Argentina as well.
For those interested in the shale side, Argentinian energy producer, YPF SA (NYSE:YPF) has been recently active in the shale gas rich Neuquén basin and has found nearly 4.5 Tcf of natural gas. The major producer can be used as a direct play. Mid cap Gran Tierra Energy (AMEX:GTE) could also be a stealth play. The company recently acquired Petrolifera Petroleum which included vast acreage in the Neuquén. Finally, moving that gas around will be the job of pipeline firm Transportadora de Gas Del Sur (NYSE:TGS).
The Bottom Line
While Brazil gets all the attention, Argentina could be a commodities investor's dream. The nation is already a major agricultural and mineral powerhouse, and now could be a natural gas leader. For investors, the previous firms along with Pampa Energia (NYSE:PAM) make interesting plays.
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