A few nights ago I was watching the Olympics and much to my surprise up stepped a weightlifter from Colombia who was competing in the clean and jerk competition. Now I happen to be a bit of a sports junkie but weightlifting isn't something that I pay much attention to. I have a general principal that if I can't pronounce the names of the athletes in a particular sport, I tend not to follow it too much. As weightlifting is generally dominated by strongmen and women from countries that end in 'stan', or from countries where last names like Nurmukhambetova or Daengchanthuek are common, I tend to fade out. That's why the Colombian caught my attention. While I didn't care if the weightlifter won a medal, as for an investment destination, Colombia is in the gold metal hunt.
A little more than 2 years ago I wrote a column about investing in Colombia. Since then the GXG (Global X InterBolsa FTSE Colombia20). which tracks the Colombian index. has surged more than 23%, far outpacing most Emerging Asian and other Latin American markets.
Many of my clients have become more and more worried about the dangerous direction that the U.S. and western European economies and nations are taking. President Obama's much publicized line "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen," just reinforces that perception. Investors are worried that this move towards more government control of economic activity in the name of fairness and social justice, is going to end up sending country after country off a 'fiscal' cliff. As such it may be more lucrative for investors to look at economies that are heading in the other direction; to an economic system that encourages risk takers and entrepreneurs and those who are job creators.
One such country is Colombia. Stereotyped, and rightly so, as a country where drug cartels run wild and are free to do what they please, Colombia has done a complete 180 degree turn and has not only cracked down on the drug industry but has been moving more and more to a free economy. According to Marketwatch.com, "In fact, the war with the FARC rebels is still simmering today, and the drug trade is likewise still active. But by strengthening its military and reducing bombings and kidnappings, and by going after the leaders of the drug trade, Colombia appears to have convinced foreign investors that the changes are here to stay."
According to the International Monetary Fund, Colombia posted GDP growth of 5.9% last year and is expected to post 4.7% growth for '12. Not too shabby considering the global economic slowdown. The economy is commodity driven but less reliant on mining metals and more focused on agriculture and energy, two sectors that may be primed for explosive growth.
The Marketwatch.com article continues, "Also, while agricultural commodities have underperformed other industries over the past decade, some analysts do see a recovery in food commodities. Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry is one of those. Colombia is the only Latin American country that didn't have an economic miracle. Colombia has cocoa, palm oil, rubber and cattle - any one of those could be [that miracle]." That is what makes Colombia an intriguing investment destination. They are producing strong growth in spite of a dismal global economy, and they have done it without a miracle.
The metric I really like using in evaluating globally is the age of population. 40% of Colombia's population is under 20 years old and 80% under 50. This means that we have a young population, thirsty for economic success, and a growing middle class. This is the recipe for success.
When investing in frontier markets there is a danger of being a 'one hit wonder.' More than one country has gone from boom to bust in a short amount of time due to the hope of an economic 'miracle'. Investors have itchy trigger fingers and if the miracle doesn't materialize, they sell and move on to the next market. This is another reason to like Colombia. The growth is driven by a fundamental change in economic philosophy, and that is more of a cultural change and much more sustainable over the long term.
There are certainly risks with this type of investment. The threat of some kind of coup always exists in that part of the world. In addition, as the economy continues to post strong economic numbers and more foreigners invest, there is a threat of inflation.
Speak to your financial advisor to see if an investment in Colombia fits with your investment goals and risk profile.
Disclosure: No position held and none planned in the next 72 hours. Have clients who own the position