Escaping the big blow off

Early indications are that Obama’s job speech last night failed to impress. Europe is down, or essentially flat. Gold is rallying for a second straight day.

Hey, why are investors suddenly so hard to impress? I know, I know, we’re all headed for the financial abyss and yadda yadda … but can’t we just pretend to get a little excited about a $488B stimulous package? Jeeze…

Anyway I don’t believe we all sneeze whenever the U.S. catches a cold, or however that little ditty goes. At least not all of us. It’s a typically North America-centric view, shared no doubt by Europeans, but nevertheless based on an overinflated view of our own importance and a rather narrow world view to boot.

Yes, there is such a thing as contagion. But there is also such a thing as decoupling. 

Believe me, as quickly as the markets and currencies and economies of the world united in the interest of globalization, they can just as quickly unravel. Faster in fact, when money is at stake.

The issue of how interdependent we all are — or aren’t — is not purely a matter of tangibility; for example Chinese production being dependent on U.S. consumers and vice versa, or a coffee picker’s fate in Colombia being determined by whether or not the British brokers in the City can afford one or two non-fat lattes per day at Starbucks.

Sure, it´s tangible if you live and pay a mortgage in Canada or the United States or the U.K., or work in a factory in Beijing or grade coffee beans in Periera. But for an investor, it’s merely academic. You can always take your money somewhere else.

Investors need to ditch the idea that Europe and the United States comprise the entire world, because they don’t. Nor are we obligated to participate financially in the capital markets of certain nation states if we find better opportunities elsewhere. And those opportunities do exist and will continue to exist, no matter what happens.

My point is merely that you the investor should be fully engaged in doing just that — looking elsewhere for capital gains, wealth preservation, and income, over the short and medium term. Not staring at your feet, not wringing your hands over last week’s job figures, not wandering around wearing the 2,000 yard stare. As one of my favourite newsletter writers says, ‘There’s always a bull market somewhere…’

But where to look?

In recent editions I’ve mentioned a few companies in South America that trade in the U.S., including two I know intimately well — state oil producer EcoPetrol of Colombia and Chilean national power utility Endesa S.A. Though they’re both buy and hold stocks, I have issues with each over the short term.

EcoPetrol, as the partially owned state oil producer, may find itself on the hook for repairs to the towns and villages ravaged by last year’s unseasonal rains, estimated by some to be in the realm of $5 billion. For its part, Endesa — which delivers power to the world’s largest copper mines in the north — is heavily exposed to oil prices due to its reliance on thermal energy.

Endesa’s earnings and stock price have declined over recent quarters, even though it has the green light for the $3.2 billion hidroaysen project in the southern watershed which will eventually deliver 2.7 Mw of power over the world’s longest transmission line. Completion is still some years away, and public opinion is solidly against it.

Both those companies trade through American Depository Receipts (ADRs) on New York. ADRs are priced relative to the value of the domestic shares, and their ratio. For example, Endesa Chile ADRs trade just shy of $50, based on one ADR for every 30 Chilean shares, each priced at $768 Chilean Pesos. That’s about a buck and a half.

In keeping with my earlier theme of ‘decoupling’ though, I’m inclined to buy deals which trade exclusively on their domestic exchanges, for a couple of reasons. One, your stock might escape the downdraft in the event of a blow-off to the downside occuring elsewhere in the world. Two, you get a bit of a hedge on the conversion side because peso denominated shares will ultimately buy more dollars if the dollar debasement trend continues.

One deal I like that trades exclusively on the Chilean exchange, or bolsa, is Empresa Eléctrica Pehuenche S.A. This company controls three hydroelectric projects in Chile’s 7th Region, plus a 220 kV transmission line that connects its Pehuenche plant to the Ancoa substation, and into the Central Grid (SIC), and later delivery to customers. It also has another 220 kV line between the Loma Alta and Pehuenche plants. The real money within the Endesa group of companies is on the power generation side, and Pehuenche has all that, plus the distribution side of it.

Getting exposure to this and other deals in South America is not as complex as it seems. In fact all you really need is a local bank account.  Even broker buying may be optional. During a public issue by EcoPetrol in Colombia last year, shares in the giant oil producer were available for purchase from the local Exito, which is a popular supermarket chain.  It’s how things should be in my view.

Who needs to by through a registered this from a licenced that anyway? We’re just asking to buy a few shares in a national company.

That’s not too much to ask is it?  … KB

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