By Premo Sewnunan
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) recently lowered its growth forecast for 2011. The forecast now stands at around 2%, down from 3.25% in early May. Investors in the U.S. and abroad are concerned about another US.-led recession and the resulting global slowdown that could affect the Australian region's export-led growth.
Australia's eastern neighbor, New Zealand, is in a similar situation with its treasury slashing its growth forecast due to slowing activity with major trading partners. New Zealand’s economic growth is heavily dependent on the Asian and Australian economies.
Australian and New Zealand companies are export focused, and this offsets some of the weak domestic growth felt in their home countries. By focusing their operations in fast growing emerging markets, these companies have been able to insulate themselves from their home countries' economic woes. The first three companies are currently beneficiaries of emerging market growth:
Alumina Ltd (AWC): Alumina is involved in bauxite mining, refining alumina and in aluminum smelting through its 40% stake in AWAC, with Alcoa (NYSE:AA) holding the remaining 60% stake.
The stock's valuation is high, currently trading at a price/earnings multiple of 71.67 (trailing twelve months). BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), with a trailing P/E of 9.43, is a far better option.
The company's first half net profit advanced 53% to $68 million due to higher basic materials prices and robust demand for aluminum from China. The good news couldn’t stop the share price from slumping 6% after its latest earnings report, as underlying earnings of $78 million missed analyst forecasts. Management blamed the stronger Australian dollar for pushing up costs and making basic goods less competitive to foreign counterparts.
Profits were also boosted by changes to its pricing contracts. The increasing use of a spot/index pricing system boosted margins and bodes well for future earnings. Overall, demand for aluminum will continue to grow and benefit the company.
In general, analysts are divided over this stock. In August, analyst firm Macquarie lifted its rating to outperform from neutral, while J.P Morgan lowered its price target on shares.
BHP Billiton (BHP): BHP Billiton is the world’s largest diversified natural resource company with active operations on several continents. The company was formed in 2001 in a merger between BHP of Australia and Billiton, which had its base in London and operations in South Africa.
BHP is currently valued around $225 billion, with a price/earnings ratio of 9.6 (for the trailing twelve months). With a book value per share (for the most recent quarter) at 20.8, the company is selling at just under four times its book value. A large cap company selling at such a low valuations does not occur too often, especially considering that BHP's earnings should advance at a double digit pace for fiscal 2012.
Demand for the company’s commodities should remain robust as BRIC countries, Brazil, India and China continue to expand. BHP is also investing in the oil and gas arena as the recent merger with PetroHawk (NYSE:HK) suggests.
In sum, a company of this caliber selling cheaply doesn’t come often. A solid dividend yield sweetens the deal further, and thus we recommend that interested investors take a look at buying shares.
InterOil Company (NYSE:IOC): InterOil is involved in oil and gas exploration in Papua New Guinea. The company is also engaged in wholesale and retail distribution of fuels and lubricants, for example, engine oil.
InterOil is valued around $3 billion, while the price/earnings ratio is negative due to negative earnings. The company sells at just under four times its fiscal 2010 revenues.
The company's June period results were impressive, with net profit tripling to $23.5 million on foreign currency gains and growth in several operating segments. Dampening the report, though, were losses in the company's upstream and midstream liquefaction segments. These continue to be a drag on the company's performance.
The company is the only oil refiner in Papua New Guinea and, wisely, it recently appointed the former Prime Minister to its advisory board. InterOil recently signed an agreement to supply one million tons of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to Nobel Clean Fuels.
In general, earnings at energy companies are volatile, as revenues tend to rise and fall with demand for oil. At its current valuation, this stock is a decent regional export play.
The last regional pick is a telecom powerhouse. Telecom Corporation of New Zealand (NZT): Telecom New Zealand provides telecom and IT services to Australia and New Zealand.
It's currently valued at roughly $4 billion, and the trailing twelve month price/earnings ratio is 28.1. The stock remains 15% off of its 52 week high, however shares are pricier than those of Vodafone (NASDAQ:VOD), with a multiple of 10.7, and BT Group (NYSE:BT), which is even cheaper at a multiple of 8.59.
The main interest for investors is NZT's dividend yield, which currently stands at 10.3%. Since the latter part of May, the stock has outperformed the S&P 500 and Dow Jones, rising roughly 10%.
Nonetheless, there are concerns surrounding this company. The stock price tanked recently amid news of its CEO leaving and the company is separating into two independently listed entities. Investors are concerned whether earnings will be stable once the split is finalized at the end of November. While we do not see a significant impact on earnings due to the split, we encourage investors to monitor proceedings before deciding to commit funds in this environment.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.