Investing Opportunities In The Near Abroad

Includes: EWC, EWW
by: Global Investing Editor

The near abroad is the destination of choice for 2012 investors, in part because there are so few certainties about other parts of the world. In 2011 the best performing stock market of all was Venezuela's, at least if you were able to take out your pesos (which you can't of course).

That gives you an idea about political risk of which there is plenty to go around.

Europe is unable to figure out what to do about its debtor nations. Long-term I think the euro will survive with duct tape and deceptions. But there will be problems en route there.

Britain is engaged in a counter-cyclical bout of virtuous deficit cutting which can lead to more social unrest (riots and Occupy-St.-Paul's). I, as a Keynesian, object.

Having failed to exit its decades-old funk which hit stocks and real estate, Japan faced a new crisis where Mother Nature was only partly to blame for nuclear risks treated as a surprise, insouciance in a country subject to earthquakes and tsunamis.

Meanwhile, how about them BRICs?

Russia is again an enigma wrapped in a conundrum covered by uncertainty over its politics and economics. To say nothing of Hungary! (The near abroad, by the way, is a Russian term for close-by countries they like to dominate. I borrowed it.)

China - nobody has a consensus about. It is the bellwether for Asian emerging markets and nobody can tell you if it is in the hands of monetary doves or hawks.

India is in a pre-election fin de regime mode which means corruption and price gouging shops are tolerated and local pressure groups can stop new industrial development.

Latin America, apart from Chavez-land, has a few issues with neo-leftism, in Argentina, Peru, and even Brazil. New governments (like Brazil's) are unable to cope with corruption and figure out where the currency, banking, and business levers are hidden.

Hence the near abroad, meaning Mexico and Canada, whose economies are in the same time zone as ours and integrated by Nafta and custom. Canada has unemployment rises (from a lower base than ours) because industries like car-making straddle the border. Its raw material exports depend on global demand which is uncertain. Monday the largest producer of fertilizer in the world, Potash of Saskatchewan (NYSE:POT), announced a 4-week production shut-in because of slow demand.

The good side is that Canada's currency is moving to near-parity with the US$, with only enough slippage to give forex traders something to do. Its banks and property markets are significantly healthier than those south of the border a mere 300 years after we lost the War of 1812 trying to conquer the place. Canada is easy to trade from US brokerages and their analysts.

Mexico is going to see 3-4% growth in output this year according to the Central Bank, not bad. Its corrupt system and drug cartels are in part the fault of US spilloever across the border and can be resolved if US policy changes. It has real lefties (right across the river from Texas, Rick Perry, are real socialists, not moderate liberals like Obama). Their leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is pulling a Romney conversion act, away from Chavez-Cristina-Correo-Castro and toward copy Lula of Brazil. This is an improvement to applaud.