While the news worldwide seems universally gloomy, it doesn't mean that there aren't any bargains to be had.
If you're looking for opportunities to grow your money in ways that are not dependent on changes in monetary policy or a solution to the Eurozone debt crisis, here's a good one.
It's a brand "new" market that has just had a stroke of good fortune, which means its prospects now look much better than they did before.
It has a decent-sized market, with lots of companies listed in the United States, and low political risk.
It may surprise you to know that I'm talking about Mexico.
Now, I know that Mexico hasn't exactly been at the top of list when it comes to finding safe investments.
For the last decade, Mexico has been bedeviled by the stranglehold of oligarchy, slow growth and an economy which is excessively dependent on the United States.
Admittedly for investors, there did not seem to be much to go for. The big companies, such as those controlled by Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, sold on sky-high P/E ratios and seemed to offer more risk than opportunity. Meanwhile, smaller outfits were stifled by Mexico's bureaucracy and slow growth rate.
But the truth is things have been looking up recently for this down-beaten market.
The Economist panel of forecasters predicts Mexico will grow at 3.7% in 2012 and 3.8% in 2013.
That's nearly double the 2% GDP growth U.S. investors can expect and much more than double the forecast for the Eurozone, which is flirting with a recession.
In today's markets, Mexico is one of the few places that offer investors real growth.
Change South of the Border
But there's another reason for investors to begin to look south of the border.
The recent Mexican election has returned a new charismatic president, who may actually be able to carry out the reforms needed to make Mexico a rich country - most notably by freeing up its sclerotic oil company Pemex, whose production has dropped by a third since 2004.
The difference is that last two presidents from the National Action Party (PAN) were never able to carry a majority of Mexico's Congress with them, because the former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) opposed their initiatives.
But now the PRI has scored a victory with new president Enrique Peña Nieto. The party is close to a majority in Mexico's Chamber of Deputies and has a substantial majority when the remaining deputies from the right-leaning PAN are added.
Of course, it is possible Peña Nieto was lying to the electorate when he promised reform on the election trail - he's a politician after all.
In fact, a post-vote scandal has created a backlash of recent protests. Meanwhile, the results have been contested. Still, a successful legal challenge is quite unlikely.
But even without all of the promised reforms, Mexico's prospects are much improved, and there's actually huge upside for investors if Peña Nieto pursues reform and carries it through Mexico's Congress.
Investing in Mexico: Four to Buy, One to Avoid
In this case, it's not worth buying the ETF for Mexico, iShares Mexico Investible Market Index (NYSE:EWW). As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few Mexican companies listed in New York and the biggest ones like America Movil S.A.B. de C.V. (NYSE:AMX) and Grupo Televisa SAB (NYSE: TV) are overpriced, the latter on over 20 times earnings.
However there are some medium-sized Mexican companies the carry very attractive valuations. They include:
Desarrolladora Homex SAB de CV. (NYSE:HXM): Yes, HXM is a homebuilder. But don't slam the phone down. Mexico never had the silly interest rates the U.S. had between 2002-07, so they never had a housing bubble. HXM constructs entry-level, middle-income and tourist housing. The company is currently trading at 6.2 times historic earnings, 5 times forward earnings and is 19% below book value. In today's market this one is a real bargain
Grupo Casa Saba SAB de CV (NYSE:SAB): SAB has a $200 million market cap and is a wholesaler of pharmaceuticals, publications, food products and other consumer goods. The company is trading at 36% of book value and 3.6 times historic earnings, but is highly leveraged. I'd call this quite cheap but risky.
Grupo Simec SAB de CV (NYSE: SIM): With a $1.6 billion market cap, SIM is a manufacturer, processor and distributor of special bar-quality steel in Mexico and the U.S. The company trades slightly below book value, on 6.7 times historic earnings and has over $400 million of net cash. It is highly leveraged to the steel cycle, but nonetheless provides investors solid value.
Empresas ICA SAB de CV (NYSE: ICA): With construction and related activities in Mexico and Latin America, this is a regional growth play. The company has a $1.1 billion market cap, trades at 7.3 times historic earnings and is 15% below book value. The downside is its high leverage. Like SAB, this one appears higher risk, but again offers good value.
So yes, even amid the post-election tumult, Mexico is a place where the future is beginning to brighten-especially given its growth prospects compared to the U.S. and the Eurozone.
With its improved outlook, these four stocks at least should merit a close look for some of your investment dollars.
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