BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Beyond the vegemite sandwiches and koala bears of Australia lie unique investment opportunities, according to Robert Scharar, fund manager of the Commonwealth Australia/New Zealand Fund (CNZLX). Last year the fund was ranked No. 1 by Lipper in assessing a 15-year period.
Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand, benefit not just from being commodity rich, but in being stable democracies that can handle the commodities responsibly, Scharar says, pointing to how Australia handled its global-headline-making parliamentary impasse in selecting a prime minister -- itself brought on by a controversial proposal for a 30% tax on coal and iron ore profits. The result: compromise that hasn't affected a growing role as energy giant.
In addition to being one of the first countries to emerge from the global financial crisis, Australia has mineral wealth and a proximity to China that is stoking strong economic expansion. An illustration of both strengths is found in the largest single company-to-company contract in its history, which calls for China National Offshore Oil to buy 3.6 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year for 20 years from Australia's BG Group.
Government officials are announcing boldly that massive undersea fields could quadruple Australia's exports, turning it into an energy superpower.The Commonwealth fund is alone in focusing exclusively on both lower Pacific Rim countries. On Sept. 2, BlackRock (BLK - Get Report) announced the launch of the iShares MSCI New Zealand Investable Market Index Fund (ENZ - Get Report), the first ETF focused solely on the New Zealand market and a complement to the iShares MSCI Australia Index Fund (EWA). In March, IndexIQ launched the IQ Australia Small Cap ETF (KROO). Scharar says his bullish attitude for Australia and New Zealand comes as much from on-the-ground observations as from any spreadsheet calculation. His frequent trips have enabled him to seek out a variety of small- and midcap companies poised for success. Overall, he sees the countries as safe havens amid the economic uncertainty still rooted in the U.S. and other nations. "The economy is in this sort of push-pull between inflation and deflation, and I think Australia and New Zealand are particularly well-positioned to offer an investor some upside to all of that," he says. The commodities market, and the demand for raw resources, is key for both countries. Food demand will continue to rise, he says, and infrastructure projects will require steel, concrete and other natural resources. Energy resources will continue to be a longstanding and lucrative export. "I think New Zealand will be in a position to benefit from increased food commodity prices fairly dramatically, just like Australia will from the increased prices for resources," he says. "Australians are also pretty smart about how they are doing that. They are not turning over their assets to everybody in the world. They are partnering up with people in ways that they can maintain control and transparency."