Rob Marstrand

This place isn’t on most investors’ radars…yet. But that will change soon.

This country:

  • Is a member of the 20 wealthiest nations on earth: the G-20
  • Is the world’s third largest democracy, after India and the US
  • Has the world’s fourth-largest population of 240 million people
  • Has a stock market that has gone up nearly 44% in the past year
  • Has doubled its economy in the past five years

The place I’m talking about is Indonesia.

You’ve heard of the BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China. These are the “big guns” in the emerging markets world.

Jim O’Neil, a well-known Goldman Sachs analyst came up with the term back in 2001 in a paper titled “The World Needs Better Economic BRICs.” O’Neil’s point: The BRICs would become the world’s four dominant economies by 2050.

Think of Indonesia as the “fifth BRIC.”

Indonesia is slightly smaller than Mexico. Or about three times the size of Texas. The bulk of the population lives on just five major islands: Sumatra, Java (the location of the capital city Jakarta), Sulawesi, Borneo and New Guinea. But the country’s land mass is spread over an archipelago of 17,508 islands, of which about 6,000 are inhabited.

This string of islands is on a strategic location slap bang in the middle of major sea-lanes linking the Indian and Pacific oceans.

With a GDP of $521 billion, its economy is less than half the size of its nearest BRIC cousin. But it’s certainly big enough to invest in. It’s a well-diversified economy with sizable incomes from agriculture, natural resources and manufacturing. It’s also well situated between India and China. This means its exports should grow as these larger neighbors grow.

Indonesia also has a relatively stable government under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. And although levels of corruption are still too high for comfort, it is recognized to be less corrupt than BRIC member Russia. In general the trend is for less corruption over time.

According to The Economist, Indonesian GDP will grow by 5.9% next year. That’s almost three times the World Bank’s 2.4% estimate for the developed economies. And nearly three times the 2.5% forecast for the US (which by the way, looks optimistic).

More important, this growth is being driven by the private sector, not by government spending. In Indonesia, the private sector accounts for roughly 90% GDP.

Also, Indonesia is well isolated from the weak economies of the US and Europe. Only 11% of its exports go to the US. The bulk of the other 89% go to Asian nations. This is another reason to have confidence in the country’s future prospects.

There’s more good news on the consumer-spending front, too. Over the past five years, the average income has doubled to $2,350 a year. And a report by Deutsche Bank predicts that figure can rise another 50% by the end of next year.

Despite this income growth, Indonesia still has the lowest unit labor costs in the Asia- Pacific region. This has attracted manufacturing activities from China. Employment growth is critical, because half of Indonesia’s population is 25 years old or younger.

This means the workforce as a portion of total population will rise over the next 20 years. This should further increase the country’s consumption levels and fuel further economic growth.

But before we move on, I want to flag three risks associated with Indonesia.

First, there will be a change of president in 2014. A shift away from the reforming agenda of the current administration would be negative for investments.

Second, if big international investors get spooked by emerging markets, Indonesia could suffer badly. But it’s important to remember that any turning away from the emerging markets usually only lasts for a short time.

A good example of investors getting spooked (big time) is the recent financial crisis following the subprime mortgage meltdown. Between February and November 2008, the MSCI Indonesia Index fell 72%, measured in US dollars.

Of course, the crisis had nothing to do with Indonesia. Investors everywhere were simply panicking and selling indiscriminately. But (and this is a big but) the index then came roaring back. It’s now up 319% from its lows in November 2008. If you’d bought at the pre-crisis peak and held on, you’d still have made 17% on your investment, measured in US dollars.

Serious investors shouldn’t worry too much about this kind of illogical, short-term market volatility. In fact, if this kind of panicked selling happens again, I’d be recommending you invest more into Indonesia (plus a lot of other places).

Third, Indonesia runs along an active fault in the Earth’s crust. There are quite regular earthquakes and volcanic activity. From time to time this activity can produce major natural disasters. The most infamous recent example was the 2004 tsunami, when a huge undersea earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra triggered the massive waves that pounded parts of Thailand and other countries in the region.

However, despite the omnipresent risks of investing in Indonesia, the country’s stock market has been performing brilliantly. The MSCI Indonesia Index has gained 26% a year over the past 10 years, measured in dollars. This investment performance means that the Indonesian stock market has been one of the strongest in the world over the past decade, considerably outperforming all of the BRICs, as well as the loss-making US stock market.

You would have gained 893% if you’d invested in Indonesia over the last 10 years, measured in dollars. In and of itself, that’s a remarkable run…all the more so when compared to the S&P 500’s 15% decline over the same period. Investors looking to capture the upside of the emerging market megatrend, therefore, would do well to look toward the “Fifth BRIC.”

Regards,

Rob Marstrand
for The Daily Reckoning

Rob Marstrand

Rob Marstrand worked for UBS for 15 years, mainly in corporate strategy, before escaping the banking world and moving to South America. His ex-employer was the largest global wealth manager and world's biggest stock trader. The strategy job involved all areas of the business in all parts of the world. Reviewing current businesses, developing entry strategies for new businesses and countries, and working on acquisitions and joint ventures. This work involved detailed review and valuation of competitors and takeover targets. Rob lived in Hong Kong, China from 2002 to 2005, where he was particularly involved in negotiating joint ventures and acquisitions in China. He has also worked on projects, acquisitions and joint ventures in Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, the US, Switzerland, Indonesia and South Korea, amongst others. He is British, married to an Argentine wife, and emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina with his wife and two children in 2008.

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