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JBL: Mideast Metamorphosis

A visit to Afghanistan reveals immense change, and an opportunity in Turkcell.

For a video presentation of this report from Layfield, please click here.

For the past four years, I have had the honor of visiting our troops in the Middle East. The


performs every year at Christmastime for our troops in different war zones; the taped special will air Dec. 19 on USA Network.

I just returned from my fourth visit to Afghanistan, and believe I have witnessed something historical there. During my first visit to Kabul and Kandahar in December 2002, the nights were marked by blackouts and the sound of mortar fire. This past week, staying at Bagram (outside of Kabul) seemed as safe as being in Fort Hood, Texas. While there is still deadly fighting going on in many places around the country, our armed forces have done an unbelievable job of securing Afghanistan against the Taliban.

Afghanistan just had its second election in the last 5,000 years, a truly remarkable feat. The coalition has set up schools and hospitals for the local Afghan people. The approval rating for the coalition forces in Afghanistan is phenomenal. These people have a real chance of claiming their own country, and this will mark the epic birth of democracy in the Middle East.

While the Afghans are embracing their new freedom, the economic metamorphosis of the country -- which currently has a 15% literacy rate -- will take years. And their dependence on opium production (their only real source of GDP) will not go away overnight.

However, after taking a simple flight over the country, it becomes clear that Afghans are embracing a technological world they never dreamed existed. Satellite dishes are put up over sheep-herding huts in the middle of the desert as well as most homes in cities. People are using cell phones.

Right now, the biggest cash product for the country is opium, and the government is careful not to target and destroy their poppy fields, which they believe would create unmanageable negative sentiment. Instead, they are helping them develop an agrarian and manufacturing society.

A rumored



plant and an oil pipeline will help the country, along with other manufacturing locating there because labor in Afghanistan is cheap even by Third World standards. Locals who work on the army base are paid $6 a day and are considered rich.

Making Freedom

Afghanistan symbolizes the huge changes going on in the Middle East. A lot of people will make a lot of money off these changes.

One thing that can make money right now in the Middle East is the cell-phone industry. These countries will not spend money laying ground lines; it is just too inefficient. People in these countries who use the telephone will do so wirelessly.

One of the best cell-phone plays in the Middle East is

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TheStreet Recommends



, Turkey's biggest cell-phone company and the first Turkish company to be listed on the

New York Stock Exchange


On April 27, 1998, Turkcell signed a 25-year license contract with the Turkish Ministry of Transportation; in effect, it owns the cell-phone market in Turkey and has more than 26.7 million subscribers, with more than 96% coverage of the population of Turkey. Turkcell has spent $4.5 billion on infrastructure since its inception, including license fees.

Turkcell has 5.5 million subscribers outside of Turkey via partnerships in the Ukraine and several old Russian states. Turkcell is increasing its presence in the region. For example, Turkcell has been trying to work out an arrangement with Iran that so far has not worked. As an investor, I would prefer it stayed away from Iran completely.

Turkcell is trading at a forward multiple of roughly 10 based on future consensus earnings of $1.50 per share. With a growth rate in excess of the forward multiple and a yield of 3.5%, this stock looks like a bargain.

I believe you will see Turkcell use its cash ($1 per share) to increase its presence throughout the region. With a market cap of just over $11.6 billion, Turkcell is a ripe takeover pick. There will be consolidation in the industry in the future, and companies like Turkcell make attractive targets.

I do not own Turkcell; I have followed the stock for a couple of years and have missed several buying opportunities. On a pullback, I will be a buyer. I do believe that this is a good buy long term right here.

Coal Takeovers

A month ago I


Consol Energy


as a play on coal, and for the relative value it holds as a cheap alternative to high natural gas prices. Since then, the stock has risen more than 9.5%.

An international consortium of utilities and coal companies will join the U.S. government to build FutureGen, billed as the world's cleanest-burning coal plant. With coal becoming environmentally more friendly and with a cold winter upon us, Consol Energy still has legs.

I waited on a dip that did not come and missed out on Consol Energy; if you hold Consol Energy shares, I would definitely keep them here.

Get Jim Cramer's picks for 2006


A former All-American offensive lineman at Abilene Christian University, John Layfield played professional football for the then-Los Angeles Raiders and later in the World League. After wrestling in Japan, Mexico and Europe, Layfield arrived in the WWE in the mid-1990's. A former WWE champion, JBL was a featured wrester at WrestleMania 21 and can also be seen on

Friday Night SmackDown!

on UPN. Outside of the ring, JBL is a self-taught investor who was recruited to write a personal finance book,

Have More Money Now

, which was released in the summer of 2003. He has appeared on finance shows on CNN and Fox News Network. He is co-chairman of the Smackdown Your Vote! Campaign and he has joined both the USO and Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) for tours through Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle East countries. He regularly visits the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda naval hospital to meet with wounded troops.