Europe's debt woes and resulting austerity plans coupled with the United States' congressional inaction have finally begun to take their toll on the global economy. The chances of a global recession have now increased and analysts have begun the task of downgrading their gross domestic product (GDP) estimates for a variety of nations. Overall, analysts now peg global GDP growth to fall to around 2.5%, with some areas like Europe experiencing negative economic growth. However, one rating agency's recent downgrade of an entire region could be exactly the catalyst investors need to add these nations to a portfolio. (For additional reading, check out Should You Invest In Emerging Markets.)
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Slowing Growth, Long Term Potential
The slow downs in the developed West have caused Fitch to begin downgrading emerging Asia. On the whole, the research group estimates that emerging Asia will expand by 6.8% in 2012, less than its June forecast of 7.4%. Fitch highlights slowing industrial production in key exporting nations like Taiwan or Singapore and rising wholesale inflation as the reason for the downgrades. In their report, Fitch increased its 2012 inflation forecast for the region to 4.9% up from 4.7%.
However, for contrarian investors the recent downgrade could be a blessing and an opportunity. The recent slowing growth predictions have caused a huge drop in Asian asset prices. Broad measures like the SPDR S&P Emerging Asia Pacific (ARCA:GMF) now sit closer to their 52-week lows and trade for single digit forward price to earnings (P/E). However, the long-term growth story of the region hasn't changed. A burgeoning middle class, increasing incomes and growing domestic consumption are hallmarks of the region. These strong internal growth catalysts will help propel the region forward as their developed market counterparts struggle with high unemployment, dwindling consumer spending and impending tax uncertainty. Even as Fitch was downgrading the region's growth, in its report it called emerging Asia's growth prospects relatively "favorable." In addition, the agency highlighted the continent's improving public finances, infrastructure spending and lower commodity prices as the key drivers for growth.
The Best Ways to Play
Given Fitch's recent downgrade of emerging Asia, those contrarian investors may want to use the recent weakness to add the region to a portfolio. Broad-based funds like the iShares S&P Asia 50 Index (ARCA:AIA) or Global X FTSE ASEAN 40 ETF (ARCA:ASEA) make ideal ways to add the entire region to a portfolio. However, some individual nations currently offer some unique risk/reward potential. Here are some picks.
After suffering through high inflationary pressures over the last few years, Vietnam saw these pressures dip for the fourth month in December. The nation is benefiting from rising wages in China as manufacturers begin to shift production to lower cost producers. The growth of Chinese "off-shoring" coupled with the nations incredibly young population make it an interesting frontier play in Asia. The Market Vectors Vietnam ETF (ARCA:VNM) is currently the only way to gain access to the region.
Both Taiwan and Singapore have seen industrial production dip over the last few months. However, Taiwan remains one of the world's biggest high tech manufacturers and Singapore continues to be Asia's financial powerhouse. Both the iShares MSCI Singapore Index (ARCA:EWS) and iShares MSCI Taiwan Index (ARCA:EWT) offer a way to play their continued dominance in those areas.
Finally, for investors looking for active management at a discount, the Templeton Dragon Fund (NYSE:TDF) is helmed by emerging market guru Mark Mobius and currently trades at a 11% discount to net asset value. Top holdings include Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE:TSM) and Yanzhou Coal Mining (NYSE:YZC).
The Bottom Line
As the world economic growth begins to slow, some opportunities have risen for longer focused investors. Fitch's recent downgrade of emerging Asia is one such opportunity. With the long-term picture still in place, investors can use a drop in asset prices to load up on the nations in the region. (For more, read The Risks Of Investing In Emerging Markets.)
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At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.