China: A Bright Spot Overseas
In the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, China played a key moderating role.
In the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, China played a key moderating role. In the global financial crisis of 2008-09, the Chinese have had an even larger calming influence. Not only is the surging Chinese economy vastly bigger now, but the Communists in Beijing have also demonstrated a keen understanding of Keynesian economics.
Observing the stunning collapse in global demand, the government tapped into its fiscal surpluses and the nation's superabundant savings and foreign reserves. The result was a quickly hatched $600-billion stimulus program, which as a share of Chinese gross domestic product was much larger than the U.S. battle plan. The results of the aggressive stimulus are already evident in bank-loan growth, a recovery in real estate markets, an increase in consumer spending and a 6% economic expansion in the first quarter of 2009.
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The Chinese locomotive is pulling along Taiwan and other neighboring Asian countries. Brazil and several other Latin American countries are also demonstrating impressive resilience. But other than that, there are few bright spots in a rather bleak global economy. Japan is in a funk (again), and most of Western Europe is mired in a recession that's deeper than ours. Eastern Europe is suffering from the same problem that sank Southeast Asia in 1997-98: an inability to service large dollar-denominated foreign debts with rapidly depreciating local currencies.
Simon Hallett, of the Harding Loevner funds, is an old hand at managing emerging-markets portfolios. He seeks to avoid highly leveraged nations that depend on imported capital -- Eastern Europe's situation today. China and Brazil stack up well in this regard, particularly because of their large domestic markets, growing consumption and fiscally fit governments.
Of course, investing in emerging markets isn't for everyone. But there's another way to profit from the growth prospects of these dynamic economies: through European or Japanese multinational corporations with cutting-edge technology and brands and stocks that are often cheaper than those in emerging markets.
For example, Hallett taps into emerging-market demand through London-based WPP Group (symbol WPPGY), the world's largest advertising agency, and French luxury-goods king LVMH (not traded in the U.S.). John Maxwell, manager of Ivy International Core, says he plays the emerging-markets theme through Nestlé (NSRGY.PK), the Swiss processed-food giant, and England's British American Tobacco (BTI), the world's second-largest listed cigarette company after Philip Morris International.
Brian McMahon, manager of Thornburg Investment Income Builder, notes that several major telecom operators, including Spain's Telefonica (TEF), have large footprints in the developing world. Matt McLennan, co-manager of First Eagle Global, likes to play Asian demand for the latest factory automation know-how through Japanese innovators, such as Fanuc (FANUF.PK), a leader in robotics, and pneumatics maker SMC Corp. (SMECF.PK).
You can also tap into overseas economies through such fine funds as Dodge & Cox International (DODFX) and T. Rowe Price Emerging Markets (PRMSX), both members of the Kiplinger 25. If you are comfortable holding regional funds, Matthews Asian Growth & Income (MACSX) is a relatively low-volatility way to invest in Asia. If it's Latin American exposure you fancy, consider T. Rowe Price Latin America (PRLAX).