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How would you like to get in on the ground floor of the telecom market in a country I've dubbed the "New China"?
It's a country that boasts:
- 6% annual GDP growth before, after and during and the global economic meltdown.
- The fourth largest population on the planet. It is also one of the youngest (median age is 28).
- A centuries-long social and economic connection to China and every strategic Southeast Asian economy.
- Foreign Direct Investment that has grown exponentially in the teeth of the global crisis.
- A bigger economy than the Netherlands or Turkey.
I'm talking about Indonesia.
It's a place usually found in the back of the mind of most Western investors. It only crops up if there is an earthquake, a tsunami or political unrest in a far flung province.
But the truth is, Indonesia is nestled in one of the most strategic locations on the emerging market map. It neighbors India, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand.
It also has long historical and economic ties to China.
About 3%-4% of the population is Chinese/Indonesian, and they represent a powerful but quiet voice in the Indonesian economy. That influence, which was buried for many years, is now a highly prized asset.
Investing in the "New China"
From the 1970s until recently, Chinese influence in Indonesian society was largely muted by Indonesian politicians. The Chinese language wasn't taught in schools and Chinese history was stricken from textbooks.
But things are changing rapidly.
In the rice-growing region of Lamongan in Java, students are now being required to speak, read and write Mandarin because Indonesian authorities now realize that there is huge economic advantage in reaching out and learning from its economic compatriots.
Having partners is one of the cornerstones of the new economy; without it and a global reach you're not going to make it.
Telecommunications is one of the keys. It's why I like Telekomunikasi Indonesia (NYSE: TLK).
If Indonesia lives up to its growing reputation as the "New China" then TLK is the new Ma Bell.
This telecom giant has a portfolio of information and communication services, including fixed-wire line and fixed wireless telephone, mobile cellular, data and Internet, and network and interconnection services for 237 million people.
What's more, those 237 million Indonesian people are gaining buying power. The country has just cracked its goal of $3,000 GDP per capita.
While this doesn't sound impressive to a Westerner, let me put it in perspective.
In 2002, the Chinese Communist Party set a goal for $3,000 GDP per capita by 2020. The Chinese hit their goal early, in 2008.
The implications of $3,000 GDP per capita are an economic tipping point for a developing economy.
For example, by 2009, Chinese car purchases had grown to 13.6 million, surpassing the United States. In the first quarter of 2011, car purchases in Indonesia were up 30% to 225,000 units and neared 900,000 by year end. The government has a goal of 1 million sales by 2015 and it's looking like it may hit that early.
The point is, Indonesia is on its way. As one of biggest nations in the world, with access to every major developing economy in Asia, the Indonesian story has legs and a lot of potential for investors.
Telkom (NYSE: TLK) Is Firing On All Cylinders
Looking at TLK specifically, the stock has performed remarkably well through the economic maelstrom that even shook India and China. Since late 2008, the stock has returned more than 80%, including a solid dividend that is now around 4.4%.
Being a young and growing economy with a population demanding the goods established economies already have, the growth prospects are astounding.
Between 2005-2010, mobile phone growth was over 30% a year and land line growth was near 20%.
There are now 250 million mobile phone users in Indonesia, with TLK having a hand directly or indirectly in almost every account. In total, TLK directly controls 70% of the mobile business.
As the company expands, it's encouraging to see TLK keeping control of its bottom line by trimming its workforce (more by early retirement and reallocating duties than by layoffs).
It's also developing partnerships with outside firms where it can learn and profit simultaneously.
For example, it was announced earlier this week that TLK and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) will be partnering on an e-commerce venture in Indonesia. It makes sense, since the number of Internet users in the archipelago increased by more than 30% in 2011.
And now that the country is increasingly connected, doing business on their phones, iPads or computers will be the next logical step.
On the dividend side, TLK is thinking about boosting its dividend payout ratio from 50% to 65%, which means even more cash for investors on this total return play.
Its low debt levels help keep the dividend – and dividend growth – reliable. And for this fiscal year, the company is projecting a 7%-8% rise in revenues, while it boosted EBITDA to around 58%.
The institutional money is pouring in and has pushed up the stock, but there's still plenty of headroom. Most individual investors have yet to hear this story.
Trading around a P/E of 13, it's slightly more expensive than its Asian peers, but if you're looking for a dynamic long-term total return pick, TLK is a great buy below 34.
Get in ahead of the herd.
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