There's nowhere to hide.
At least that's the first impression one has when looking at markets around the globe these days.
Abby Cohen and
Mark Mobius make a few choice comments about the value of tech stocks and everyone heads for the door, not just in this country but in Hong Kong, Frankfurt and Tokyo. Although the declines in those markets have not yet matched the depth of the
drop, throughout this year's ups and downs foreign market movements have echoed the U.S. One of the rules of the era -- be it a new economy or a speculative one, it would seem: If the U.S. tumbles, so do stock markets around the world, especially those buoyed by highflying tech companies.
Thus, if we are truly in a Mobian correction -- the 50% to 90% drop the fiery fund manager predicted this week -- the rest of the world is sunk too.
However, before we sell everything and buy old economy stalwarts -- or, for that matter, canned tuna and guns -- it is important to remember a key point: The growth of the technology and the Internet economy around the world presents an enormous investing opportunity over the long term.
It's easy to forget how far ahead the U.S. is with respect to the rest of the world when it comes to e-commerce and the Internet. Asia, Latin America, even Europe (with the rare exception like Finland) are just beginning to get connected to the Internet, but they are taking to it in a fury. In China, for example, Internet usage is doubling every six months. It is still only at around 8 million, a tiny fraction of China's one billion people. Of course, most Chinese are still years away from being able to afford a computer, not to mention having an interest in buying anything online. But even if only 10% of the Chinese do get online, that's 100 million people. And the story is the same in India, Brazil, Korea and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, cell phone usage is an enormous market around the world, especially in countries with unreliable telephone service or high rates due to government controlled monopolies, or both. And although B2B is in even greater infancy outside the U.S. than B2C, its potential for growth is equally great.
In short, the spectacular growth of tech stocks overseas is occurring for a reason. Strong companies providing Internet services or building the infrastructure of the Internet economy have considerable earnings potential. While the market is far from mature in the U.S, it is barely in its infancy in the rest of the world.
To be sure, there is no shortage of companies overseas with absurd valuations. Some make U.S. tech valuations look positively rational. For example, is Chinese Internet portal
worthy of its 558% increase since last summer, which includes a two-for-one split? Most fund managers I talk to don't think so because they believe it will soon be eclipsed by another portal yet to go public,
, the Korean tech market, is gaining a reputation for splashy dot-coms with vague business plans. Ironically, even that trend has a positive side to it, since it stems from a new entrepreneurial spirit in Korea, a sharp contrast to the old sclerotic
But not all companies in emerging markets are mere froth. Take
, a world leader in the industry. It is up 323% since last summer.
In addition to the enormous potential of the Net, it is important to remember that, while the U.S. economy is still the strongest in the world with the most impressive fundamentals, other countries are doing pretty well. European nations for the most part seem to be on a solid, if not very dramatic growth path.
International Monetary Fund
just forecast 4% growth for Latin America this year. Korea, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Russia, Malaysia: All are showing positive growth, and some, like Korea, are undergoing significant economic reform. And while Japan has lapsed back into recession, many businesses are undergoing a remarkable restructuring that could lead to a dramatic transformation of the Japanese economy.
Thus, savvy overseas investors aren't panicked by Mobius and Cohen or the effect of the Nasdaq on the rest of the world. "We'll see some weakness in the short term," says Eshwar Menon, portfolio manager at
Loomis Sayles International Equity Fund, "but in the long term, we view this as a buying opportunity." His fund is up over 100% over the last year. For Menon and other investors like him, the growth of the Internet economy overseas offers too big a potential to be scared away now.
David Kurapka's Global Portfolio column appears Wednesdays and Fridays on TSC. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he does not own shares in any companies or mutual funds mentioned in this column. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at