The World Moves On Its Stomach

By Aaron Levitt | May 13, 2011 AAA

The quickly-expanding populations of emerging markets, coupled with newfound middle class incomes, are some of the few long term megatrends for investors. This increase in incomes will spur new infrastructure investments and new waves of consumerism. Funds like the Global X Brazil Consumer ETF (Nasdaq:BRAQ) have sprouted up, allowing investors to take advantage of these trends. However, the biggest play may not be emerging markets' appetites for consumer goods, but their actual appetites. The shift in diets from one of staples towards greater use of meat, poultry and dairy products could be a huge opportunity for investors.
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The Growth in Protein
Over the last decade, China's meat consumption has grown by more than 20% per person. That amount is set to explode upwards as the nation continues to grow in prosperity. A similar story is occurring in India, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia. With a combined population about 10-times the size of America, these nations are all beginning to change their diets at the same time. Overall, rising living standards have a dramatic effect on the composition of diet. Per-capita intake of protein rises through greater consumption of beef, chicken and pork, as a nation gets richer. For example, wealthy developed markets such as the U.S. and Germany consume about 123 kg and 88 kg of meat per capita, respectively; growing China consumes 54 kg, and relatively poor Bangladesh consumes just 3.6 kg. However, the shift towards a varied high protein diet in developing markets is evident in China's Rice consumption. The average Chinese citizen in 1977 received about 40% of their caloric needs via rice. Now rice only accounts for about 25% of the Chinese diet. According to reports by the FAO, China's per-capita intake of calories, protein and fat were all well below the world average in 1975, but now these numbers sit well above the averages.

Beef exports from the United State's surged nearly 19% in 2010, resulting in the smallest U.S. cattle herd since 1958. Demand from emerging Russia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan has grown at continues to put pressure on U.S. exports. The rise in beef, pork and poultry consumption is also having a dramatic effect on grain imports. As the emerging markets become carnivores, the corn, wheat and soybeans are going into animal feed instead of bellies. It takes 7 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef; 4 kg to produce 1 kg of pork, and 2 kg for 1 kg of poultry. As consumers eat more meat, there's a huge multiplier effect on the grain imports and prices. (To learn more, see What Is An Emerging Market Economy?)

Playing the Shift
For investors, the shift from a diet of staples to one that includes more sources of protein could be a great long-term play. Funds like the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (NYSE:MOO) are great over-arching Ag plays, but there are some protein specific options that might suit investors better.

Accounting for population forecasts, an additional 27 million tons of fish production will be needed to just maintain the present level of per-capita consumption in 2030, forget about any increases. China's fish consumption has increased at a rate of about 5.7% annually since 1961. The new Global X Fishing Industry ETF (Nasdaq:FISN) follows a basket of 20 different companies involved in aquaculture and commercial fishing. Investors can also use the iPath DJ-UBS Livestock ETN (NYSE:COW) or farm stocks like Cresud (Nasdaq:CRESY) to bet on livestock consumption.

Large domestic protein producers like Tyson (NYSE:TSN) and Smithfield Foods (NYSE:SFD) are positioned very well to export protein to China, India and other emerging market nations. The comparative advantage comes from the United State's abundance of clean water, arable land and strong grain production. All things needed for raising chickens, cattle and hogs. Additionally, Brazil features many of the same attributes. Giant Brasil Foods S.A. (Nasdaq:BRFS) is poised to grow along with Brazil's appetite.

The Bottom Line
Just as growing emerging nations will crave a variety of new consumer products, their diets will change as well. The shift from one of grains and staples to one of variety and more protein will be enormous. For investors, playing that shift could be one of the better long-term themes for a portfolio.

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