Market Overview

How to Invest in Southeast Asia's "New" Frontier Markets (EPHE, VNM, ASEA)


It may have flown under the radars of many American traders and investors, but Aung San Suu Kyi's victory in Myanmar's parliamentary elections over the weekend has some political experts speculating that Aung San Suu Kyi's party could take control of Myanmar's government following larger elections in 2015. Should that happen, a new era of democracy could dawn in the country formerly known as Burma.

Myanmar is also home to oil and an abundance of other natural resources, but there is a cautionary tale as well. As Dennis Lim recently opined on the Mark Mobius blog regarding Myanmar "Such resources are positive, of course, but the country is not without its areas of concern. Weaknesses we're especially mindful of in Myanmar are lack of a proper legal structure, the lack of a well-developed banking system, and the lack of solid foreign exchange operations."

Cambodia is another frontier market in Southeast Asia that's on the rise, economically speaking. The former home of the Khmer Rouge has seen its tourism industry blossom in recent years, but Lim cautions "potential investors to monitor corporate governance standards to ensure investors are treated fairly."

While there are no ETFs currently offering exposure to the Cambodia or Myanmar, according to the ETFdb ETF Country Exposure tool there are ways to get indirect exposure to these high risk reward/high reward markets. Here are some ideas.

Global X FTSE ASEAN 40 ETF (NYSE: ASEA) Unbeknownst to many Americans, Cambodia and Myanmar are both ASEAN member states and given where the countries are located, it's not surprising that some of their most important trading relationships are with countries found in ASEA's lineup. Singapore and Thailand combine for over 49% of ASEA's weight, meaning the ETF is an avenue for getting some exposure to Southeast Asia's new frontier without taking on unnecessary risk.

iShares MSCI Thailand Investable Market Index Fund (NYSE: THD) Speaking of Thailand, there is the iShares MSCI Thailand Investable Market Index Fund, an ETF for which there are unlimited superlatives. Thailand shares borders with Cambodia and Myanmar, making it an integral trading partner for both countries.

Beyond that, Thailand is arguably the most politically stable country in an area that includes itself, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The more the others choose to emulate Thai economic and political policies, the more Southeast Asia will benefit and reward investors over the long term.

Market Vectors Vietnam (NYSE: VNM) One of the top-performing ETFs of the first quarter VNM has struggled in recent weeks, though it appears to be consolidating in a higher range well above its 200-day moving average.

As is the case with Thailand, Vietnam could benefit from proximity to Cambodia and Myanmar, but in the near-term Vietnam's ability to contain inflation will be its most important economic selling point the primary help or harm to VNM's fortunes.

iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index Fund (NYSE: EPHE) EPHE is another fund we've been bullish on for quite a while now and it's worth noting the Philippines is working to bolster ties to Cambodia. Starting later this month, Cambodia will be less than three hours from Manila thanks to new direct flights courtesy of Cebu Pacific Airline. Philippine Ambassador to Cambodia Noe Wong believes the new flights will speed improved trade between the two nations, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

By the way, EPHE is up today on volume that is well above triple the daily average.

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