Having lived in Singapore as a child I’ve always been fond of Southeast Asia.
Fifty years later, though, I like it for a slightly different reason. It’s become a place where I like to invest.
In fact, I believe the region is the world’s newest “sweet spot” for investors.
Of course, you don’t hear much about the economies of Southeast Asia. Given the media’s penchant for bad news, that alone should tell you something.
But unlike the U.S., Europe, China, India and Japan, the region is doing just fine, which is why you should consider putting some money in places like Malaysia and Singapore.
The Singaporean Economy
First, though, I’d like to give you a first-hand glimpse of the ongoing economic miracle in Singapore.
Because one thing is for certain: The place is gigantically richer than it was when I lived there as a child.
Needless to say, so much has changed since the new independent government took over from British rule.
At the time, most of our neighbours in Singapore were fearful of the change, and for good reason. Independence in other countries, notably India, had brought nothing but trouble and bloodshed.
However, my father reassured us. He said the new leader, Lee Kuan-yew, was both sensible and very able, so things would be fine.
Admittedly, father was no great shakes when it came to investments, but by George he knew his stuff on geopolitics. In the 50 years since then, Singapore has been just about the most successful society on earth.
According to The Economist, Singapore’s economy is expected to grow 3.1% in 2012 and 4.3% in 2013 – very decent figures for such a rich country. That is roughly 50% faster than what The Economist team expects for the U.S.
The Malaysian Economy
Apart from a stable, mostly sensible government it has a nice economy that’s well balanced between resources and manufacturing – so it does well regardless of whether commodities prices are going up or down.
Malaysia’s economy has GDP per capita of $15,600, about half that of South Korea, and is ranked 53rd on the Heritage Foundation’s index, 60th on Transparency International’s index and 18th on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business – the latter is a very good rating indeed for a middle-income country.
The Economy of South Korea – Another “Must-Have” Investment Region in South East Asia
But the home of my youth is not the only place for investors in Southeast Asia.
The other “must-have” destination is South Korea. Admittedly it’s a bit far north geographically, but it’s Southeast Asian in spirit as well as a great place to put your money.
South Korea is also a fairly rich country. It’s not as rich as Singapore but it does have decent ratings on the three global surveys. For example, it’s eighth on “Ease of Doing Business.”
Like Singapore, it has more or less completely avoided the twin economic madness of the last few years – central banks that print too much money and governments that spend too much.
Perhaps its greatest difference from us is its budget balance. South Korea’s economy is running a surplus of 2.7% of GDP – in an election year!
With huge strengths in manufacturing, and technology and government spending that’s the lowest in the OECD club of rich nations, South Korea’s well worth some of your investment dollars, especially as the market is quite cheap, on a P/E of about 12.
The easiest way to participate in these markets is through exchange-traded funds.
Good management, dependable growth and the avoidance of the all the West’s mistakes. When it comes to your investments, you really can’t beat the economies of Southeast Asia!
Contributing Editor, Money Morning
Publisher’s Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Money Morning (USA).
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