Global Trader: Chasing Scattered Bright Spots Around The World

The glory of a global market is that you can shift money across national borders in pursuit of the perfect place to invest. In theory, there’s always a spot where the grass is green and the sky is blue.

Once upon a time, that was true. But as the ties between economies get tighter, global markets have started moving more in synch with Wall Street.

Don’t like where U.S. monetary policy is going? Tough. The Fed calls the tune and with few exceptions all the other central bankers need to figure out how to sing harmony.

Not thrilled with trends you see in U.S. domestic consumption or the corporate regulatory environment? Too bad. Most of the foreign stocks you can trade here have significant exposure to conditions here . . . and vice versa.

While it’s nice that the U.S. market is seen as being “too big to fail,” that big footprint means it’s actually harder to get away when you’re unhappy with conditions here at home.

Just look at the way various markets have performed YTD. Inflation and interest rates are wreaking havoc around the planet. It isn’t just us.

All of the 10 biggest mature economies are down this year in dollar terms. The only shelter is relative . . . Australia and Canada have the commodity exports to support their biggest stocks while a strong pound makes the UK a little brighter from a dollar-based investor’s perspective.

But in dollar terms, they’re still underwater by at least 1-3 percentage points. The rest of Europe is doing worse than Wall Street across the board. So is Japan.

What we used to call the “emerging” world has a few havens, however. Don’t look to the usual suspects: Chinese stocks are underperforming their U.S. counterparts by a wide margin and only a weak currency makes South Korea even superficially attractive right now.

Exchange rates are the only factor propping up Brazilian stocks as a hedge. COVID pushed the country into rolling recessions that formally only ended a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, inflation is eating the economy alive. Food and other commodity exports cut both ways . . . spawning worse inflation than what we’re facing here, but at least cash is flowing into the country.

All in all, I’m neutral on Brazil right now unless you’re absolutely done with U.S. stocks. South Africa, also intimately linked to commodity prices, is a similar story.

Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico, India? Not really making money for investors right now. They aren’t losing a lot of money either, but at best they’re interesting as a way to hedge bigger losses here at home.

Defying The Gloom

What’s hot? Fringe markets that are largely closed to U.S. investors except through carefully controlled vehicles.

If you thought India was challenging to get into without a Mumbai trading account, Indonesia takes that impenetrability up a level. Arguably, it’s worth the effort to take this country seriously.

The Jakarta market is up 12% YTD in dollar terms, one of the few sweet spots anywhere on the globe. The iShares ETF for Indonesia (EIDO) has done a fairly good job tracking that gain, but this is one of the rare cases where you can buy the heat right from the source.

I’m talking literally. Two Indonesian companies trade on Wall Street and one is Indonesia Energy (INDO) . . . an oil producer finding ways to pump crude at an all-in cost below $25 per barrel.

You can see how that math stacks up sweet in a world where oil is in short supply at 4X that price. INDO is riding high and is unlikely to come down soon.

But at barely $150 million in market cap, INDO isn’t even a blip in the ETF portfolio or the Jakarta market. My advice: if you want an emerging oil stock, go straight to INDO.

If you want conventional diversification, EIDO is the ticker symbol of choice. You won’t get the pure play on oil, but right now Indonesia is a lot more than commodity prices.

This is where global supply chains are shifting to get out of China’s shadow. And EIDO is the only way for U.S. investors to get access to the local bankers facilitating all the transactions that go into new factories for the decades to come.

Besides, if you want oil, Saudi Arabia is the only other major economy where stocks are making money this year. And you can’t buy any Saudi stock directly without an overseas account.

The only way in is via the iShares ETF. Check out KSA. There’s no mystery why it’s flashing so bright in an otherwise gloomy year.