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Carlos Slim's Oil Play in Colombia

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

By Ian Wyatt

Carlos Slim probably knows more about investing in emerging markets than anyone else alive.

Forbes named him the world's richest man last year. His holdings are currently estimated at $70 billion. His telecommunications investments in Latin American countries have been his best earners to date, but the multibillionaire is not stopping there. When he speaks about investment opportunities in new markets, you should listen.

Late last week, Carlos announced his interest in one Latin-American country overlooked by many investors.

The country he spoke about was not Mexico, or even the super-hot Brazil. Instead, Carlos spoke of the home of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. But his interests aren't in narcotics.

Carlos is investing in Colombia because it has the potential to power the next generation of oil production.

There are many signs that highlight Colombia's turnaround from a hostile environment over the last decade. The first is the country's improving economic and political stability. In the middle of last year, Juan Manuel Santos was sworn in as the new Colombian president, and his new policies have generally been investor-friendly.

Santos succeeds Álvaro Uribe Vélez who was president from 2002 to 2010 and is credited with much of the country's progress fighting illegal armed groups, and promoting commerce.

The government has also used incentives to create an attractive investment environment. According to Bloomberg, Colombian foreign direct investment has increased nearly fivefold in the last decade, from $1.5 billion in 1999 to $7.2 billion in 2009. According to central bank figures, Colombia received $6.5 billion in foreign direct investment through the third quarter of 2010, meaning it is on pace to grow investment for yet another year.

The oil sector is largely driving this investment, in part due to government programs to make the country attractive to foreign oil companies. Companies can now have longer exploration licenses, and can also own 100 percent stakes in oil ventures.
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