Investing in Mongolia: Is It Time to Buy the World's Fastest Growing Economy?

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It is the world's fastest growing economy. It also may be the world's best kept secret.

Yet it is true. Mongolia is growing twice as fast as China and it's a market most investors know little about.

While Chinese GDP is forecast to grow by 7.5% in 2012, the Mongolian economy is set to grow at a blistering pace of 14.9%.

That's down a bit from 2011-but not by much.

According to official statistics, the Mongolian economy grew 17.3% in 2011.

Taking the two together, Mongolia would have the world's fastest growth rate, beating Qatar and Libya over the same two-year time frame.

So is there a way a regular guy can make money out of all this growth?

Or to the larger question: Is the Mongolian market where we should be putting our hard-earned savings?

Investing In Mongolia

To start, it's not all good news when it comes to investing in Mongolia. There is some bad economic news that comes along with the good.
Mongolian inflation hit 11% in December, and there is fear of it accelerating further.

More ominously, government spending swelled 56% in 2011, far faster than the economy. After all, 17% growth plus 11% only gives you 28% growth.

What's more, government spending accounts for 44% of GDP and is expected to grow a further 32% in 2012. Even the World Bank seems worried - with 17% economic growth it's hard for even its Keynesian economists to justify runaway state spending as "stimulus."

Admittedly, 2011-12 was the run-up to an election - legislative elections are due in June, and the post-Communist Mongolian People's Party government is trying to buy success in the traditional political way.

However, Mongolia has a Democratic Party president, and what seems to be a pretty vigorous alternation of parties in power, with elections being close. So while there are the usual good guys and bad guys, the political system seems to be working okay.

Nevertheless, the public spending figures suggest that even with the rapid growth Mongolia has achieved, major public spending is a problem.

Mongolia's Greatest Strength

Mongolia's big growth driver is its natural resources; the country has large deposits of copper, coal, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, and gold, which together form about a third of its industrial production.

Additionally, two giant projects in particular are close to coming on stream.

The first is the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold-silver project for which Ivanhoe Mines (NYSE: IVN) is the prime Western partner. The second is the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi coking coal mine project, which was due to float on London this spring, but has since been postponed.

One of Mongolia's big advantages as a natural resource producer is that it has a market right next door called China.

Here's why that is so important. In this case, it is purely about location.

At present, prices for these resources are so high that today it's worth shipping them from the world's most inaccessible spots to the Chinese markets.

For example, Brazil's Vale S.A. (NYSE: VALE) has China as its largest customer, even though bulky iron ore has to be shipped more than halfway round the world to get there.

However, when resource prices are low, Mongolia will have a huge advantage, and be able to provide just-in-time delivery to Chinese customers, thus being able to maintain its market share when this may otherwise be difficult.

Mongolia's direct political risk is thus limited, and its advantage in global resource markets is such that it should remain a major resource producer for decades to come, to the immense benefit of its citizens.

Breaking Down the Mongolian Markets

Yet I am not sure I would put huge amounts of money there.

The country's public sector hasn't seemed to have learned self-restraint, and until it does the chances of the country's mineral resources being wasted are great.

Then there's the lack of attractive opportunities.

At present, there are no Mongolian companies with ADRs listed, and the delay in the Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi listing suggests there will not be many soon.

The Mongolian Stock Exchange now has a total capitalization of about $2 billion and over 300 companies listed, but those figures suggest that individual companies are pretty small and the market has had a huge run up in the last few years.

Ivanhoe Mines (NYSE: IVN) may be worth a small flutter; if gold and copper prices continue their climb and its production ramp-up goes smoothly when it opens (currently scheduled for the third quarter of this year).

However Ivanhoe's recent announcement that it is selling non-strategic assets to finance completion of Oyu Tolgoi suggests that finance availability is not yet quite bulletproof - and the shares are selling at nearly three times net asset value.

One can only welcome Mongolia's rapid growth, and its emergence into the ranks of resource-rich middle-income Westernized countries.

But the best opportunities there at the moment seem open only to Mongolians.


[Editor's Note: Whether they are found in Mongolia, South America or elsewhere, investors are going to earn big money in resources in the years to come.

In fact, virtually every substance vital to modern life will soon become enormously expensive − and profitable for investors who know how to play it.

As commodities and mining expert Peter Krauth explains in his latest report, we are about to experience what he calls "The Five Minute Effect." When that happens it promises to be unlike anything the world has seen before.

To learn more about how "The Five Minute Effect" will send resource prices considerably higher click here. ]



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About the Author

Martin Hutchinson is the Global Investing Specialist for Money Map Press. A British-born investment banker with more than 30 years of experience, Martin has worked on both Wall Street and Fleet Street. He is now the editor of the Permanent Wealth Investor, where he focuses on "Alpha Bulldog" stocks that pay high dividends covered by earnings. In his Merchant Banker Alert, Martin uncovers the fastest-growing companies in the fastest-growing economies and brings those ideas back home to you. For more information about these services, call our VIP Services group at 855.509.6600 or 410.622.3004.

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