The Emerging Market You Can't Afford to Miss

Emerging markets offer investors growth opportunities that are often at value-oriented prices. You can swoop up a quickly growing company for much less than its U.S. counterpart because the market prices in added risk, often for good reason. In the past year or two, investors have been wary of many emerging markets, such as China, because of the extreme volatility in stock prices and the increased occurrences of fraud. What many investors do not yet realize, though, is that one of the strongest emerging markets in the world is just south of our border.

Like Brazil, but less Favela-y
Brazil and Argentina are the oft-mentioned emerging markets in Latin America. While the United States was enduring its "Lost Decade," Brazil was showing stunning GDP growth that seemed more organic than China's state-run growth campaigns, but still involved a great deal of government muscle. So as Brazilian industry and agriculture have slowed, and Argentina's growth has leveled off, Mexico has made impressive leaps into the forefront of the emerging Latin nations. Despite an incredible amount of drug-related violence and corruption, the Mexican GDP outpaced Brazil's in 2011 and is set to do it again in 2012, at 3.6% growth versus Brazil's 2.18%.

So what music is leading this dance? For one thing, Mexican manufacturing facilities are producing record amounts of electronics such as televisions and computers. Auto manufacturers have also flocked to the region for its low-cost labor (a controversial issue for human-rights organizations) and proximity to the United States. In fact, three of the big Japanese automakers are set to open new plants in Mexico over the next couple of years.

While the sudden idea of a booming Mexican economy may sound random, the Mexican government is eager to point out that this is not a surprise. At the G-20 summit, held in Los Cabos, Mexico, the country's leaders have pointed to almost two decades of stable macroeconomic growth, low inflation rates, and a very reasonable debt situation.

Luckily for investors, the market hasn't totally taken hold of the opportunities in Mexico, as it did with Brazil.

A familiar face abroad
Beverage kingpin Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) has been a Warren Buffett favorite for decades and has been one of the best-performing stocks over as much time. As you probably know, Coke deals with a network of producers, bottlers, and distributors in addition to its own system to get its products around the world. Arca Continental (NASDAQOTH: EMBVF.PK) is a member of this incredibly profitable network. Arca is the second largest bottler of Coke products in Latin America and is darn good at it.

Last quarter, the company saw net sales rise by more than 70% from the prior year's quarter. The company trades at a little under 11 times EV/EBITDA. The EV-EBITDA ratio is a less used but, in my opinion, better valuation metric for looking at what an owner of the company takes away -- mainly because it includes debt obligations and free cash flow. Compared with its peers, and with Coke for that matter, Arca is a few points below average and looks to be a good buy based on its fast-growing business.

Cement this into your portfolio
The biggest cement company in the world is Cemex (NYSE: CX  ) . Though revenues have fallen for three years straight, causing the stock price to follow suit, Cemex is an interesting value play. The company is currently trading around 0.66 price-to-book. This means that investors are essentially buying the company for a little less than $0.70 on the dollar. A price-to-book below 1 for a company like this indicates that the market is expecting sales to continue to decline. The company doesn't forecast big growth, but it does see around a 2% pickup in revenues for 2012. In addition, there is sufficient evidence that the Mexican housing market will pick up along with U.S. housing, which would obviously increase demand for the largest cementer around.

The company screwed up by buying Australian cement company Rinker in 2006. It was a problem because of poor market timing (a year before the global collapse) and because it overpaid for the sake of growth. The depressed stock price reflects this poor decision, though I believe the company can move on from its $16 billion "oopsie" and focus on increasing profitability in its core operations.

"Corona," Mexican for "beer"
Multinational corporations have taken interest in Mexico as well. Last week, beer giant Anheuser Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD  ) purchased Grupo Modelo (NASDAQOTH: GPMCY.PK) for a little more than $20 billion. Grupo Modelo produces the best-known Mexican beer brands, with Corona as its leading product. First-quarter profit for Grupo Modelo was up to $176 million, based on improving economics in the U.S. and abroad.

Belgium-based AB InBev is expected to have sales of nearly $50 billion this year.

Mexican standoff
As with many emerging markets, there are some macro issues to keep an eye on before making any investment decisions. Mexico has long been prone to political strife in the form of corruption and coups. Though recent elections seemed to go well, the political landscape can change quickly.

Investor sentiment toward Mexico, regardless of company specifics, can wax and wane with the massive drug war ongoing in the country. Drug-related violence continues to deter tourists, as well as some foreign investment, though one can get around this issue by investing in companies that have international exposure and can transcend the difficulties taking place within the nation's borders.

If the political uncertainty is enough to keep you away from any Mexican companies, there are other great opportunities in Latin America for the prudent investor. Our analysts have identified a company that looks a lot like market darling Costco but is much younger and just now shifting into high gear. You can read the free report.

Fool contributor Michael Lewis owns none of the stocks mentioned in the story above. You can follow him on Twitter, @MikeyLewy. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and Costco Wholesale. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Coca-Cola and Costco Wholesale. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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