In the New Economy, just as in the old one, trends seem to start in the U.S. before migrating abroad. Internet usage, for example, has just begun to take off in much of the rest of the world, but with a few exceptions, it still pales in comparison to the U.S. And E-commerce is in an even earlier infancy. Investors, therefore, can take advantage by getting in at the beginning of overseas trends that already have started here.
A good example is Web security.
Around the world, but particularly in Asia and Latin America, companies, governments and individuals are way behind the U.S. in virus protection and other forms of computer security. Many have not taken basic steps to protect their systems. These dangers have been underscored over the last few months by a wave of Web attacks in Asia and Latin America.
In January, a hacker from China vandalized Japanese government Web sites and listed information about the destruction of Nanking in World War II (a topic the Japanese have been reluctant to discuss). A number of hackers have recently broken into Latin American sites to post messages supporting the return of
In Thailand, someone posted the credit card numbers of leading retail Web sites in the U.S. A 15-year-old Korean boy was arrested for developing a virus that reportedly was worse than last year's
This is a short list.
Because the Internet is still taking its first steps in Asia and Latin America, these attacks have sparked concerns that fears over Web security will stifle e-commerce. Forty percent of Thai net users said they are concerned about the safety of e-commerce, according to a survey by Thailand's
National Electronics and Computer Technology Center
But companies and governments have responded to this problem, and the race is on, particularly in Asia, to equip systems with proper security. For investors, then, even if security fears diminish optimism about tech growth in Asia and Latin America -- and I don't believe it should for the long term -- the bright side is it's a good time to invest in Web security firms.
In fact, a number of Asian companies are following another U.S. trend: the post-Web-vandal stock boost.
When a group of Web assailants attacked a number of Websites -- including
-- it boosted the stocks of a host of Web security companies.
is up 17% since the incidents.
Check Point Software Technologies
is up 57%,
, up 49%, and
is up 30%.
Similarly, the Web attacks in Asia have been a boon for a number of Asian companies. In Japan,
, which distributes software from Axent, has risen 35% since the beginning of February, while
, a filtering company, has risen 11%.
, which provides home and office security services, recently announced it soon would begin offering Internet security. Its stock has doubled since September.
Most of these companies don't have securities traded in the U.S., although they can often be bought through a broker. The major exception is
. It has risen around 500% since its release last July.
"It's the type of stock you probably want to own at some point," says Giles Knight, who manages the
Ark Small Cap Equity Fund at
Allied Investment Advisors
. He sold his position in Trend Micro around three weeks ago, believing it had peaked. "We bailed out, which is probably wrong," he says. "It's a pretty good company. They've proven themselves. They've had some innovative products. We'll revisit this at some point."
Other funds have stayed with Asian Web security companies, to their benefit. The largest position in the
Matthews Asian Technology Fund
, the only all-Asian tech fund in the U.S., is now
, a Korean Web-security firm that has recently signed an exclusive agreement to distribute Checkpoint software in Korea. It has risen seven-fold since it was bought, and has appreciated its way to the top of the fund.
Web security is hot in Asia right now. If the countries there, however, adopt China's disciplinary approach, there may be no need for Web-security companies. The government recently sentenced to death a hacker who broke into a bank online and transferred some money into his account. Hackers beware if this trend goes from Asia to the U.S., rather than vice versa.
David Kurapka's Global Portfolio column, formerly known as Trade Winds, 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