There's a fascinating new study out from Transparency International looking at the likelihood that companies from the 30 largest exporting countries in the world will commit bribery when doing business outside of their home country. The results are surprising, interesting, and -- for those of you focused on some of the more popular high-growth areas (I'm talking to you fans of Brazil, Russia, India, and China) -- I hope, enlightening.
The survey consisted of two basic questions. The first question asked survey respondents to identify the countries with companies doing the most business in the respondent's home country. The second question asked:
In your experience, to what extent do firms from the countries you have selected make undocumented extra payments or bribes?
Respondents scored the occurrences of bribes for foreign companies from various countries, and the results were calculated on a 0-to-10 scale by Transparency International, with 0 being the most likely to offer a bribe and 10 being the least likely. With a score of 7.81, Switzerland came out on top, and India brought up the rear with a score of 4.62.
While we're on the subject of India, it makes sense to look at Brazil, Russia, and China (India's "BRIC" counterparts). This group, as many investors who have invested internationally for a long time might guess, did not fare well in the survey, coming in at Nos. 23, 28, and 29, respectively. All of these countries are famous for side deals, not honoring contracts, and other unsavory behaviors. I have to admit, I'm not terribly surprised at where they placed, but let's also remember that the best country in the survey, Switzerland, scored an unimpressive 7.81 out of 10.
Other countries in the top 10 that scored well on the survey include Sweden, Australia, Canada, and Germany. Somewhat surprisingly, to me anyway, the U.S. came in tied for ninth place with Belgium. Also a surprise to me was Japan at No. 11 and Mexico at No. 15, both of which are known for creative deal making. But it's important to note that this survey was measuring bribery outside of the home country and that the behavior of a company in its home market may be different.
While an interesting read and fun, the survey doesn't provide investors with anything actionable about a given company. It does, however, give you an idea of how closely you may want to scrutinize a company's behavior depending on its home country and how much of its business is export-related. I've always thought Mexico's Cemex (NYSE: CX ) was a great company that always gets overlooked because of its home country. Surveys like this show that Cemex might be getting adequate scrutiny or deserve a little slack, and that companies such as China Techfaith Wireless Communication Technology (Nasdaq: CNTF ) might deserve more thorough poking and prodding before investors take the leap.
Cemex is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick.