As the turmoil in the Middle East spreads, many investors have fled a number of market sectors for the safe havens of gold and silver in order to wait out the storm. Arguably, no one sector has been more impacted than the emerging markets which have seen tremendous outflows thanks to a broad flight to quality by numerous investors around the globe.
While this exodus may be warranted in some cases, one has to wonder if the sell-off has been a little overdone, impacting not only the in-focus Middle East region, but a number of markets in the Asia-Pacific corner as well as in Latin America as well.
This has helped to push down emerging market PE ratios to unbelievably low levels making a great value proposition for investors willing to stick it out for the long haul. While a number of sectors, such as the consumer goods market, look likely to be among the biggest long-term gainers thanks to a population explosion and the rise of the middle-class in many traditionally poor countries, nowhere is the long-term value more compelling than in the telecommunications space. Many of the service providers in emerging market countries operate near monopolies over their respective countries making them extremely likely to weather any short-term turmoil. Furthermore, many also have robust dividend yields which could provide excellent sources of current income on top of the likely prospect of capital appreciation.
For investors intrigued by this prospect, or for those just seeking more current income out of their emerging market allocations, the following three telecoms could make for an excellent choice for the long-term. All three have high yields and relatively stable positions in their respective markets, ensuring that they will be around long after the turmoil in North Africa finally cools off.
Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PHI)
Although PHI is in arguably the riskiest market of the three, its dividend yield is also by far the highest, approaching 7%, a surprisingly high figure for a country that isn’t exactly known for its dividend paying securities. Given this backdrop, it is not too surprising to find out that the company is bit of an enigma in terms of its metrics as well. The company has posted solid profit margins as well as having very good management effectiveness metrics but it does have high debt levels and a dividend payout ratio at roughly 100%. This should give any investor pause but the Philippines is an extremely fast growing country; its population is growing at about 2% a year and more than 60% of the nation is at working age, so growth shouldn’t be too hard to come by in the near future.
Nevertheless, PHI has had some difficulty growing earnings and revenues lately, and it does have relatively high debt levels, PHI does control more than 50% of the wireless market in the nation as well as almost the entire landline segment, suggesting that no matter what happens in the Philippines, PHI will be around for the long haul.
Telecom Argentina (TEO)
The firm currently dominates the northern half of Argentina as well as the capital of Buenos Aires thanks to its historic role as the main provider of operations in the region back when the country’s phone networks were owned by the government.
Thanks to this head start and favorably position—as well as massive infrastructure upgrades—the company finds itself in a dominate spot in the market, allowing it to pay out a dividend yield of about 4.2%. Furthermore, the company has pretty high growth expectations for the future, despite only having a forward PE of about eight. According to data on Yahoo Finance, the company expects quarterly earnings growth in excess of 28% a year with a return on equity over 30%. These are impressive numbers for any telecom company, but even more so for one in an emerging market with a respectable dividend yield to boot.
While Turkcell could be the most directly impacted by turmoil in its back yard, the growth prospects are arguably greater for TKC than they are for the two other firms on this list. Turkey is an extremely fast growing nation and it finds itself at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, making it an important hub for trading between the two regions. As a result the economy has grown at a healthy clip for quite some time, making investment in the country an intriguing proposition. TKC, much like its counterparts in other countries in the region, dominates the telecom market in its home country. The company has roughly 34 million subscribers or roughly half of the country’s population, suggesting that solid revenue streams are likely well into the future.
Shares of the giant have been extremely weak as of late thanks to an earnings miss as well as ongoing turmoil in its backyard. However, the good news is that this has pushed the company to a 4.2% yield and a forward PE ratio below nine. Compare this to AT&T (T) or Verizon (VZ), two companies which have virtually no growth prospects left, and the situation at TKC starts to look extremely favorable for long-term investors willing to wait out short spikes in volatility.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.