I'm talking about Singapore and Thailand.
While the U.S. economy would be really lucky to poke along at a 3% annualized rate this year and next, the fast-growing countries on the other side of the globe are ripping higher.
Regional analysts surveyed by a Bloomberg News survey said they see Singapore expanding at a record pace this year of 14.9% due to improving demand for the city-state's exports. That's up from an estimate of 9% published three months ago. Singapore's economy relies on trade, finance and tourism. Its central bank said the surge would be led by a 29% expansion of manufacturing.
The two new casino complexes that were opened earlier in the year also have given the economy a boost. They were built at a cost of $10 billion in an effort to expand the Singapore's stature as a destination rather than just a waypoint for global travelers.
The M Hotel in Singapore's business district once struggled to fill its rooms on weekends as visiting executives tended to leave by Friday, according to The China Post. Now it enjoys a 90%-plus occupancy rate.
"I'm looking out of my window at the new skyline. What has developed over the last five years has been amazing," Hanspeter Brummer, chief executive for Asia at Swiss private bank BSI, told the newspaper from his office, which overlooks the new Marina Bay financial district.
The new business district was built on reclaimed land around the mouth of the Singapore River, and comprises not just office skyscrapers but also shops, condos, theaters and the Marina Bay Sands, which was built by Las Vegas Sands Corp. (NYSE: LVS). The district sports the world's biggest Ferris wheel, restaurants that feature celebrity chefs, and the world's first Formula One circuit where races can run at night.
Singapore felt it had to develop into a regional hub because it was losing its low-wage factory jobs to China, Malaysia and Vietnam. But it also went upscale with manufacturing, and a retooled factory base now accounts for a quarter of the economy.
The bottom line is that this is where some of the most exciting growth is occurring in the world. It's not an over-hyped sideshow - it's real, and I hope you are participating.
At least check out the iShares MSCI Singapore Index Fund (NYSE: EWS), if you haven't already.
The South Asian Steel Giant
Singapore obviously isn't the only South Asian economy worth a look.
Over the weekend I ran across a very interesting article in the British newspaper The Sunday Sun that said a mothballed blast furnace in the English seaside town of Redcar could be up and running by Christmas because it has been purchased by a Thai steel company that has big plans for its production.
The blast furnace, which had been the biggest employer in the city, went quiet in February and 1,600 workers lost their jobs. The Teesside Steelworks had been launched in 1917, and its steel was used to build bridges, warships and skyscrapers throughout the Commonwealth. The company was purchased by Dutch-British conglomerate Corus Group Ltd. in 1999, and then sold to India-based Tata Steel Ltd. (OTC:TATLY) in 2007.
Tata decided to close the plant as part of a global consolidation, but it was rescued when Sahaviriya Steel Industries PLC (SSI) of Bangkok bought it for $490 million (320 million pounds). A union leader told the Sunday Sun that SSI planned to make a long-term commitment to the plant, and would help train a new generation of workers to begin careers in the industry.
SSI - the largest steel producer in Thailand - is expected to take over the Redcar and South Bank coke ovens, power generation facilities, the Redcar blast furnace and the nearby Lackenby steel-making facilities, as well as a bulk terminal at the Redcar wharf.
"We've known Teesside Cast Products for some time and we're very satisfied with the quality of the product and have a high regard for the skilled workforce," said SSI President Win Viriyaprapaikit.
This kind of deal epitomizes the reality of the growth that is occurring in Thailand. It's not just a paper-trading, stock-market phenomenon, but real managers building real global businesses brick by brick. SSI makes up just about 1% of the holdings of iShares MSCI Thailand Index Fund (NYSE: THD), but it's emblematic of the country's potential as an industrial leader.
THD is still a good buy on dips.