5/3/2012 3:31 PM ET|
6 picks for global investors
As we wait to see how the messes in Europe, China and the US turn out, it's time to turn our attention to Australia, Canada, Latin America and elsewhere.
So what's happening everywhere else in the world?
Eyeballs are glued to the European debt crisis. Investors are sifting through every data dump from the Federal Reserve, the Bureau of Labor and corporate earnings in the hope of figuring out if the U.S. economy is slowing -- and if so, how quickly. China's momentum mavens are busy calculating how close the Chinese economy might be to a bottom and the odds that each piece of bad news might be the one that leads to the next round of stimulus from the People's Bank of China.
But what about the rest of the world? Which stock markets and which stocks should investors be watching -- and maybe putting some money into -- outside Europe, the United States or China?
Investing somewhere besides the markets that are in the headlines assumes that you believe that none of the current crop of potential bad news rises to the level of catastrophe. If one of the world's big economies and financial markets goes down hard, it's likely to take down everything. If China hits a hard landing -- a drop to 5% growth and increased social unrest -- it's unlikely that you'll find safety, let alone profits, in any of the world's other financial markets. One lesson from the post-Lehman Brothers crisis is that if the crisis is big enough, everything heads down at once.
If, on the other hand, these potential crises don't turn into great big crises -- or really into crises at all -- then the "everywhere else" markets could be either 1) profitable ways to leverage a positive result from any of the world's headline grabbers, or 2) profitable ways to diversify a portfolio.
Let me give the names of six stocks that exemplify those two groups:
The world's leverage markets
Financial markets in these countries are so connected with those of bigger economies that they'll gallop ahead if the United States or China does. In fact, they might even outrun these bigger economies -- and they certainly come with significantly lower risk than China does.
Want to leverage a faster-than-expected turnaround in China's growth? And with somewhat better financial reporting than you get with many Chinese stocks?
Australia is the obvious choice. The country's resource-heavy economy sneezes when China catches cold, but it's not nearly as likely to go into intensive care if monetary policy in Beijing turns frosty. The iShares MSCI Australia Index (EWA) exchange-traded fund doesn't do Australia's resource economy full justice. Yes, the biggest single weighting in the index goes to iron, coal, oil, uranium, etc. giant BHP Billiton (BHP) at a whopping 13.2%. But the next-biggest weightings in the index go to Australia's Big Four banks. Total weighting to those four bank stocks adds up to 30.7%.
I think you're better off owning BHP Billiton itself. The stock went down 21.8% in 2011 -- about even with the 21.7% drop in the Shanghai Composite Index that year. And it's roughly matched the gains from that index in 2012 through May 1, at 8.45% to the Shanghai market's 9%. Wall Street projects that earnings per share will drop 19.5% for the company's fiscal year that ends in June. But that would still bring the stock's price-to-earnings ratio to only 14.1, or roughly the five-year average at 14.3. By that common measure of value, the stock looks cheap, based on the 16% increase in earnings analysts are projecting for fiscal 2013. It's even cheaper if China doesn't fall as hard as expected by commodity markets, which need it for demand, or if it recovers faster than financial markets now project.
Want to leverage faster-than-expected growth in the United States? My suggestion: Think Mexico. The Mexican economy is already growing faster than that of the United States: First-quarter growth for Mexico's gross domestic product came in at 4% versus 2.2% for the U.S.
And any acceleration in the U.S. will keep Mexico's growth rate up there.
If you really want leverage to the U.S. economy, and especially to what looks like it might be a bottom in the construction industry, try Cemex (CX). The world's largest producer of ready-mix concrete certainly isn't for the weak of heart. The company barely survived the global financial crisis after having taken on a truckload of debt to expand in the U.S. market via its acquisition of Rinker in 2007, just as things headed south. Cemex isn't out of the woods yet. It has a daunting year-end leverage target to meet that will require that it sell off more assets.
But it looks as if those sales will be less than expected, thanks to a recovery in the company's business. Sales climbed 4% in the first quarter, the company reported on April 26, and that reduced the company's net loss for the quarter to $26 million from $229 million in the first quarter of 2011. Operating EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) rose 7% from the first quarter of 2011 to $567 million.
The shares are up 39.3% in 2012 through May 1 after falling 47.7% in 2011. At a recent $7.22, they were back to where they were on July 25, 2011. Cemex traded at $30 a share before the global financial crisis.
My other choice for a leverage market is Canada, and for a leverage stock there, Potash of Saskatchewan (POT). Potash is leveraged both to the U.S. economy, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected a 4% increase in corn planting this year over last year, and to China, where recent contract settlements with Chinese buyers have stabilized prices. I added Potash to my 12-to-18-month Jubak's Picks portfolio on April 4.
Additional stocks mentioned in this article: Gerdau (GGB).
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