Colombia Hits The Turbo Button

By Aaron Levitt | January 02, 2012 AAA

For many investors, their general emerging markets focus stops at the BRICs. After all, Brazil, Russia, India and China offer some of the world's largest populations and fastest moving economies. These four horsemen have formed the backbone of many portfolio's emerging market strategies and dominate holdings in funds like the Schwab Emerging Markets Equity ETF (ACRA:SCHE). However, as these countries have expanded, their growth potential has become muted. While the BRICs should beat the pants off of any developed market in the future, there are faster moving emerging markets ready to take their place. One such Latin American nation continues to see record GDP growth and could make a great portfolio addition. (For related reading, see Can Global Investors Profit From GDP Watching?)

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Export Driven Wealth
While Brazil gets all the attention, Colombia could be the better portfolio bet. Shedding its banana republic image, the nation is quickly becoming an economic force in the region. Built on the backs of various commodity exports, Colombia has witnessed record economic growth. As one of the fastest growing oil producers in Latin America and one of the world's lowest cost producers exporters of coal, the nation has begun setting up unilateral free trade agreements with various Asian and other South American countries. In addition, Colombia recently set-up a new free trade agreement with the United States that could provide support for nontraditional export growth.

This export driven wealth is spurring new investment in the nation's infrastructure as well as a surge in domestic consumer spending. This has also resulted in record foreign direct investment over the last few years. Recently, billionaire and world's richest person Carlos Slim, has been boosting his investments in Colombia due to the country's open policy on oil exploration, overall mineral assets and its growing middle class. Colombia continues to see its unemployment rate fall and inflation remains in check.

All of this positive news has helped Colombia's economy expand at its fastest pace since 2006 during the third quarter. Overall, the nation saw its GDP grow by 7.7% or a 1.7% increase over the second quarter's numbers. This surge in growth topped nearly 30 analyst's estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The United Nations (UN) predicts that Colombia will expand by 4.5% next year, besting forecasts for the rest of nation's Latin American neighbors. (To learn more on GDP growth, read The Importance Of Inflation And GDP.)

Betting on Bogota
For investors, Colombia's recent continued surge in economic growth puts it into a better position than that of its neighbors. While growth in neighboring Chile and Brazil begins to cool, Colombia is on track for another great year. However, many broad-based Latin American funds, like the iShares S&P Latin America 40 Index (ARCA:ILF) or the Market Vectors LatAm Small-Cap Index ETF (ARCA:LATM), include minuscule weightings to Colombia. Adding the nation to a portfolio requires some leg work. Here's how to do it.

The easiest and most direct way to participate in Colombia's growth is through the Global X FTSE Colombia 20 ETF (ARCA:GXG). The fund tracks 21 firms located in the nation, including cement producer Cementos Argos and utility Interconexion (OTCBB:IESFY). Since its inception in 2009, the fund has produced an annual return of around 38% and charges 0.78% in expenses. Similarly, investors can use the Market Vectors Colombia ETF (ARCA:COLX). However, the Market Vector's fund barely has any liquidity and only has less than $2 million in assets.

For investors wanting to go the individual route, Colombia is a bit of a letdown in terms of choice. Colombian utility ISAGEN has recently pushed back its full ADR listing until 2012. Currently, only two ADRs trade on U.S. exchanges. However, despite this both Ecopetrol SA (NYSE:EC) and Bancolombia S.A. (NYSE:CIB) make ideal ways to play the nation's growing oil export and consumer revolution, respectively. (For more information, read ADR Basics: What Is An ADR?)

The Bottom Line
For investors looking for the economic leaders of tomorrow, Colombia surely fits the bill. The nation's commodity exports are driving domestic consumer and infrastructure spending. That drive has resulted in continuous and record GDP growth. By adding the nation to a portfolio via the previous means, investors can tap into that potential.

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At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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