Is India cheap enough to buy yet?

I’ve taken a look at India and its recent run of bad fortune. Much of this is self-induced, with the government’s performance ever since the telecoms scandal broke being frankly abysmal. But it hasn’t been helped by factors beyond its control – eg global inflation issues and risk aversion.

Some of the cyclical issues – inflation, growth etc – should peak in the next few months. Politics is another matter; since I wrote the piece it’s begun looking almost certain that the proposed retail reforms will be abandoned. (As I explain in the article, allowing foreign investment would be more significant than it sounds.)

But the market is down substantially on all this bad news. If it falls a bit further, India probably will be very attractive for the long run.

Signs of progress in Vietnam – but not yet in the stock market

While the FT’s correspondent is definitely concerned about the outlook on Vietnam, I’m more optimistic. As I wrote this week, the data suggests the inflation problem is about to peak.

As long as the government doesn’t take that a sign the job is done and relax credit again too quickly, the economy should get back on track next year. Hopefully stocks, which are still performing badly due to complete lack of interest from all – local or foreign – will then come back into favour.

(See also an extended version with a longer explanation of why Vietnam found itself on the cusp of crisis.)

First Bangladesh and Pakistan ETFs from db x-trackers

My Asian ETF review for Index Universe this month looks at the first Bangladesh and Pakistan ETFs from db x-trackers, among a number of other new launches.

I have mixed feelings about products such as these. On one hand, it’s good to see the options for international investing getting ever broader – both as an investor and as someone who writes about international investing, I’m obviously in favour of that.

But on the other, as my brief analysis of these products in the article suggests, there are issues with ETFs in many emerging markets: index construction, portfolio concentration, quality of companies, liquidity of the market and many other potential problems. The less sophisticated the market is, the more carefully investors need to ask whether indexing is the best strategy.

Valuing Asian markets

This week’s MoneyWeek Asia is on the price/book value for the MSCI Asia ex Japan.

Price/book has historically worked very well as a top-down valuation measure in Asia ex Japan because markets are cyclical. A low market price/book usually gives good returns very quickly, while a very high one has usually meant a bubble will be bursting soon.

Right now, we’re on a price/book of about 1.6. That’s not an outstanding buying opportunity, but it suggests the odds are in our favour. More details, including charts of returns vs valuations, in the article.

Inflation improving in emerging markets

I looked at inflation in emerging markets in MoneyWeek Asia this time.

Out-of-control inflation was the big worry in EMs earlier this and the explanation for why they were underperforming (usually there’s never just one explanation, but that was the narrative people latched onto).

The good news now is that inflation seems to be ebbing, as you’d expect with global growth slowing and EM central banks tightening policy. Obviously, fears over Europe and the world economy dominate at the moment, but hopefully this is setting EMs up to do better in 2012-2013.

Singapore income stocks

In response to a few reader requests, I took a look at Singapore dividend stocks in the latest MoneyWeek Asia.

There a quite a number of large good-quality firms with respectable, solid dividends on the Singapore exchange. Add in the likelihood of long-term currency appreciation and local blue chips yielding 4-5% is quite a good way to add some international diversification to a portfolio.

I also wrote another piece on Singapore income stocks on the International Investor, which features a couple of extra ideas.

Bumi Resources

The latest MoneyWeek Asia is slightly more niche than usual – I took a look at Bakrie Brothers and Bumi Resources and the debt situation there.

At least one reader didn’t see any point to an article about a single Indonesian firm and made that clear in the comments. But there is a very relevant point: there are plenty of firms like this in emerging markets and investors need to decide whether they are going to apply quality standards to their investments

Most funds don’t – and so companies continue to get away with poor governance standards.