Global Trader: The Hottest Foreign Markets You Aren’t Watching

We all know that Wall Street is struggling this year. But when I searched the world’s markets for pockets of relative strength, a few unappreciated out-of-the-way investor havens rose pretty quickly to the top of the list.

I’m not talking about China or any other dynamic growth story. And while I love foreign oil stocks, we don’t really need to go anywhere more exotic than Canada to fill our tank with great exploration and production companies.

Most countries with reasonably developed economies have at least one stock that’s making money on Wall Street this year. It’s really just a matter of basic market math: when 300 European companies are listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ, it’s no surprise to see at least a few from France, Germany or the UK are able to resist the global market gloom.

And while a staggering 90% of  Chinese companies are down YTD, the law of relatively large numbers supports a scattered few that trade here and are pointed in the right direction.

In general, the companies that come to Wall Street tend to be better capitalized and more ambitious than their counterparts content to stay at home. We get the best names from every country.

But even a brief review of the world’s hot spots reveals distinctive clusters off most investors’ beaten path. Stocks from three tiny countries come up again and again.

I’m talking about Monaco, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Add them all together and they reflect a total population smaller than Colorado Springs or Kansas City . . . and a few dozen stocks making money this year. Stock for stock, this is where the heat is right now.

It’s all about shipping and especially who owns the tanker fleets moving oil around the planet. Five companies from Monaco trade on Wall Street. All are shipping lines . . . and four of them are up YTD, outperforming just about everything else on the planet.

Obviously Scorpio Tankers (STNG) is doing best because it combines the global market’s thirst for shipping stocks with the simple fact that everything even tangentially related to energy is booming right now. The fleet is relatively new, efficient and massive.

There’s a lot to be said about more diversified shipping lines like Costamere (CMRE), Navios (NMM) and the charmingly named Safe Bulkers (SB) as well. All are making money hand over fist right now. And all pay dividends . . . shareholders can lock in the good times now.

Bermuda tells a similar story, with a healthy diversification component from some of the world’s leading insurance carriers. We’re looking at names like Golden Ocean Group (GOGL), SFL (SFL), Nordic American Tankers (NAT) and, on the energy shipping side, Golar (GLNG), Flex (FLNG) and other leaders in liquified natural gas transportation.

A lot of the specialty finance companies headquartered on the island aren’t doing especially well in this rate environment. Ignore them and stick to the big boats.

GOGL and FLNG in particular are paying enormous yields right now. While the good times won’t last forever, there’s no reason not to lock in at least a quarter or two of cash flow before the math changes.

The Cayman Islands complete the troika of tiny titans batting well above their weight in this difficult year. Winners here are less about shipping than the territory’s regulatory climate . . . think SPACs and other shell companies designed to take advantage of favorable rules for attracting assets and moving money around.

I’m not a huge fan of any of them right now, but the fact that a handful of Cayman shells are doing relatively well when most SPACs are struggling speaks for itself. This is where you go with a premium deal. The odds are in your favor.

Really, it’s all about shipping for the rest of us. I could talk about other thriving carriers based in havens like Cyprus and Israel . . . not to mention Greece, hereditary superpower of the tanking universe . . . but you get the idea.

Sometimes you just need to look beyond the main economic cycle to get results. Right now, that means the law of the sea prevails.