For those accustomed to viewing things a certain way, it is quite disconcerting. One almost expects the ocean to pour out. It just seems wrong. Yet, the way we view the globe is entirely arbitrary, based largely on the way we've always seen it.
When we view things from a different perspective, it isn't difficult to come to different conclusions. Normally, when we have a clear perspective from our traditional vantage point, it seems pointless to view the world from a different perspective. However, when the picture we're seeing is cloudy and obscured, taking a different view is crucial. Otherwise, we are left guessing.
Those who have been following this page in recent months may have observed beginnings of a sea change in focus. Events have been leading us toward a strategy that may seem surprising. A confluence of unexpected events sometimes leads the careful analyst to draw unexpected conclusions. If you follow the logic from past issues, however, you can begin to see the germination of these ideas.
In recent months, we've addressed the importance of not following the crowd like lemmings over a cliff. We've discussed the rise of developing markets such as India and China. We've mentioned the weakening dollar and the Washington spending spree with overtones of a Keynes-inspired false recovery.
As we plunge headlong into election season, we're all getting an opportunity to hear the economic strategy of the two leading candidates. If we put aside our preferences and partisanship for a moment, and simply reasons to vote for one or another candidate, the economic policies of both leading candidates leave much to be desired. Neither has a particularly coherent economic policy, and while both pay lip service, neither fully understands the importance of free, unencumbered markets. The result is a leadership that provides no encouragement to economic growth, regardless of the outcome of the election. As long as either Bush or Kerry wins, we have nothing to look forward to.
It's not a great stretch to imagine an America adopting European-style protectionist legislation, and increasing regulation of business. This will slow our economy semi-permanently. Both camps seem to support this. Listening to our two leading presidential candidates, and hearing little objection from either congressional delegation, one can only imagine the worst. The "Reagan Revolution" is finally over. The movement toward freedom and away from regulation has come to an end. Positive reforms that haven't happened yet are unlikely to develop in the current environment.
This pessimistic outlook may be overblown, admittedly. The U.S. economy has traditionally been able to grow through some rather restrictive regulation. However, a glance back at the lackluster growth of the 1970's gives a vivid illustration of how bad a mismanaged economy can become. At least we need to look at the U.S. in the same way we look at each country of the world. No longer can we invest here simply because it is "home". Instead, we need to look worldwide, and evaluate which nations are most likely to grow.
If we take this approach, without regard for the "home team advantage", investing in the U.S. is still worth considering, but it hardly looks like the best place in the world to put our money. In fact, the fastest growth is likely where freedom is increasing, rather than where freedom is decreasing.
Consider where we see the greatest increases in freedom worldwide. It clearly isn't here. With the Patriot Act and similar legislation, not to mention a quiet increase in business regulation, we're actually moving in the opposite direction. (The Patriot Act, contrary to popular belief, is not just about wiretaps, but also adds enormously unproductive paperwork and regulatory burdens for financial firms, among others. I encourage all readers to peruse this massive legislation before giving it your tacit approval.)
Countries like China, where freedom is a relatively new concept, have the greatest chance for improvement, since they are so far behind. News that China's Minmetals plans to buy out Noranda, Canada's largest mining firm, is evidence of China's growing economic power. China is still problematic as an investment area, however, due to the government's willingness to crack down on the population, and the lack of a tradition of "rule of law". The recent effort of China Mobile to crack down on "misuse" of its cellular service by advertisers (under threat from the government) is proof positive that free markets haven't yet fully taken hold. Threats of invading Taiwan also don't engender confidence. Thus the risk is high for investing in China, and by extension in Taiwan.
Still, the story is that investing is no longer focused in America, and there are other nations where opportunities are high, and risks are not.
The recent election in Indonesia seems to be a positive omen for the future. We anticipate a more positive environment in that enormous nation. It may be one of the best places to look in the near term. Also, in the same region, Australia and New Zealand seem to be making more incremental improvements. India has great promise, despite continuing problems with corruption. Turkey's recent provisional acceptance into the
European Union makes them a powerful possibility. The opportunity to jump headlong into a large market will provide a more powerful impetus than the drag on growth from the limitations on free markets that is the cornerstone of EU membership. Thus, the short-term growth will be high as Turkey rises to the level of the other members, but eventually growth will slow to the level of France and Germany, two of the world's slowest growing economies. Look back at the growth of Spain and Greece in the past when they joined the EU to see what to expect. For the moment, at least, we see great potential for Turkey.
The key thought to take away is that the wise investor must begin looking beyond the normal borders to find the best opportunities. This doesn't suggest that we should disregard traditions of free markets and free minds. A culture that supports opportunity is still critically important. But we're seeing that culture beginning to develop in unexpected places, and seeing some decline at home. Thus, the time has come to add a new, more global dimension to our strategy. Opportunities may be better, and risks lower, in unexpected places.
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Scott Pearson is an investment advisor, writer, editor, instructor, and business leader. As President and Chief Investment Officer of Value View Financial Corp., he offers investment management services to a wide variety of clients. His own newsletter, Investor's Value View, is distributed worldwide and provides general money tips and investment advice to readers both internationally, and in the U.S.