Events in the Middle East obviously are overshadowing everything these days. Let's hope the summit in Egypt will help end the bloodshed and restore some calm to the region. Obviously, the violence is first and foremost a human tragedy, but it is also a big cloud over the markets. Suddenly the optimism felt by most economists and analysts about the state of the global economy is waning. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that nightmare scenarios involving war, oil disruptions and global recession are easy to imagine, but still unlikely at this point.
Judging by my most recent emails,
readers are still a pretty optimistic bunch. Despite all the turmoil in the markets these days, investors are still eager to find opportunities overseas -- and take issue with things I've written.
asks about two Indonesian companies,
PT Bakrie Bros.
, which, he says "used to pay nice dividend,
even though it was possibly in cahoots with wrong folks in Indonesia," and
PT Semon Cibonang
, a cement company, whose stock has fallen since the financial crisis of 1997 and 1998. Calby wants to know where to get financial information on them.
I couldn't find any data on these two companies which apparently are not listed in the U.S. either directly or through American Depositary Receipts, or ADRs. But what I want to know is, why even think about Indonesia at this point? The world's fourth-most populous nation is in a shambles, with a volatile political situation, including unrest in several regions, shaky economic reform and a leader who has a questionable grip on the situation. The benchmark
Jakarta Stock Exchange
index is down 40% this year.
Nevertheless, there are a few bright spots appearing. The economy is actually growing and
should rise 4% this year. Export and domestic consumption are up. President Wahid recently put in place an experienced economics team, which has launched a somewhat promising new reform program. You can make a lot of money coming in at a bottom, but I'd still wait until the political and economic situation clears up before thinking about investing in obscure companies in Indonesia.
Elsewhere in the region, several readers have asked about the Philippines, which has experienced its own turmoil recently with the scandals surrounding President Estrada. The scandal has not helped revive investor confidence in a country that has struggled with economic reform this year, causing the
Philippine Stock Exchange
Composite Index to plunge 37% this year. This is another Southeast Asian country to be wary of, especially if the global economy is slowing more than had been expected, which would hurt Filipino exports.
took issue with my
recent piece on Canada. "You say
has a strong weighting, but don't say it is one third of the index," he writes, noting that its performance thus distorts the overall market performance. "I'm a Canadian but am tired of all the talk on TV up here about how we're outperforming the
because it means absolutely nothing. The index is still just Nortel and resource stocks and very little more. Enough already."
Well, far be it for me to argue with a Canadian.
Finally, an unforgettable compliment came recently after
my story on German pension reform. A reader wrote, "Thanks for giving kudos to Prince Otto von Bismarck, who made Germany not only the greatest industrial power in Continental Europe at the turn of the century but also the most politically progressive in all of Europe including Britain, being the first country to grant universal suffrage to men."
I have to confess, I didn't know von Bismarck had such committed fans.
David Kurapka's Global Portfolio column appears Mondays, 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 and invites you to send it to David Kurapka.