The Next China: Five Emerging Markets To Watch

by: Nicholas Vardy, CFA

China and India may be hogging the headlines, but savvy investors know that to generate the biggest and best returns, you need to look beyond the magazine covers. With Shanghai soaring into bubble territory and Mumbai tripling over the past few years, the smart money is shifting to up-and-coming countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, and Turkey -- countries that offer equally compelling investment prospects but are still off the screens of most investors.

The Next China: "Can Any Other Country 'Do a China?'"

Investment bank Goldman Sachs posed this question in a recently published research piece. China's biggest rivals are the other BRICs -- Brazil, Russia and India. But Goldman Sachs also compiled a list of the "Next 11" (N11) -- regions it thinks are snapping at BRIC's heels -- Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam. Over the last three years, economic growth across Goldman Sachs's N11 has averaged 5.9%, the strongest in 15 years and more than double the 2.3% average growth of Old Europe.

Size matters, and in those terms India is China's only rival. Indeed, by 2030, India is likely to have a bigger population than China. Otherwise, these two have no peers. The population of all 11 members of the N11 is slightly less than China's.

More important than sheer population is urbanization. Here again India is China's only rival. China's urbanization rate is about 40% -- some 520 million people, with 200 million people having moved into cities over the past 10 years. With an urbanization rate of around 30% today, India could boost its urban population to 50% over the next 20 years, and even match China within 30 years. Surprisingly, urbanization is already quite high in most of the N11 countries.

Another crucial area is trade. China has succeeded in becoming a leading player in the global trading system in an historical blink of an eye. There is plenty of scope for the other BRICs and the N11 to boost their role in global trade.

Replicating China's achievements in foreign direct investment [FDI] is more challenging. Attracting FDI requires giving up some domestic ownership of key companies and key industries. Brazil, Mexico and Russia are reasonably significant players already -- though Russia is backtracking in this trend. In contrast, FDI in India and the other N11 are but a blip on the FDI screen.

The bottom line? No single country is likely to match China's progress in the near future. Among the other BRIC countries and the N11, India alone is big enough. But the disinflationary benefits to the world economy through the emergence of the smaller group of N11 will be considerable for a long time to come.

The Next China: The Prospects for the N11

Although they will never match China in size, a handful of others countries have the potential to generate higher investment returns over the next 30 years. These "frontier" markets are volatile and are the first to fall out of bed when financial markets falter. But look at the big picture, and the rewards of investing in countries that get the basics right could be huge.

With that in mind, here are my top five favorite emerging global stars.

#1 Vietnam

Vietnam's economic growth nearly rivals that of China and India, with its economy expected to grow at 8% over the next five years. Vietnam's young, well-educated population of more than 85 million ensures that it will have an ample supply of the right kind of workforce. The government has launched a large-scale privatization program. Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization [WTO] in January and is attracting a flood of FDI. Investors have taken note. Its stock market is up a spectacular 500% since 2003 and almost doubled over the past year.

#2 Brazil

Although Brazil is one of the "Big Four" BRICs, it has been always been the least favored of the four. With China and India all the rage, and Russia's market and democratic reforms faltering, this former BRIC dark horse is my favorite among the BRICs. Brazil has gotten its economic act together more than the markets appreciate. Supported by strong currency, an economy buoyed by the natural resource boom, and a falling interest rate environment, I expect this favorite of Yale professor Robert Shiller to power ahead of most other global markets for years to come.

#3 Turkey

Turkey rivals Taiwan for the title of most volatile market in the world. Economic growth in this country of 70+ million is expected to average 4.6% a year over the next five years. Multinational firms have been snapping up cheap assets. For example, GE Capital recently bought a 25.5% stake in Garanti Bank as part of its effort to position itself as the country's main mortgage provider. Turkey's low level of mortgages, personal lending and life insurance sales mean that the country's financial sector should see massive growth over future years.

#4 Mexico

If Mexico continues on its present rate of growth, it will overtake France and the United Kingdom by 2035. The government has been pouring money to upgrade infrastructure, including railways, telecommunications, airports and natural gas distribution. Another sign of Mexico's coming of age? Mexican industrialist Carlos Slim has recently surpassed Warren Buffett as #2 on the Forbes 400 list of the world's wealthiest people.

#5 The East Africa Region

Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda and southern Sudan is creating investment opportunities attracting the heartiest of investment souls. The establishment of the East African Customs Union [EAC] has led to a rapid increase in trade between Uganda and Kenya, with goods worth $400 million exported to Kenya last year, a 20% jump over 2004. With Rwanda and Burundi joining, the EAC will have a combined economy of more than $40 billion with a total population of about 120 million.

China may have few rivals in the world in terms of size. But investors care more about potential investment returns than sheer economic heft. Secondary frontier markets clearly have their risks. But great fortunes are made by buying underappreciated assets low and selling overvalued assets high. And savvy investors can make a fortune by investing in countries that get the basics right.