The biggest news out of emerging markets this past week were the horrific attacks in Mumbai, India. A group of terrorists fired on and bombed India's financial center, killing 172 people and injuring around 300. Many news sources focused their reporting on foreigners caught in the attack. But while the profile of the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Hotels guaranteed that foreigners would be hit, the fact that the first target was the main Mumbai train station suggests strongly that this attack was designed to destabilize India itself.
It's important to remember that while the Mumbai attack got the most attention from the media, it was only the latest of a significant string of terrorist incidents in India, with several of its commercial and political centers -- including Hyderabad, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Mumbai -- bearing the brunt. While these attacks were more sophisticated and brazen than previous ones, India has experienced numerous terrorist attacks in recent years, yet continued on the path of economic expansion. In fact, a little more than two years ago, Mumbai was the site of terrorist bombing that claimed the lives of 180 people.
In this context, it becomes clearer that the main terrorist goals are to destabilize both India's secular democracy and its increasingly capitalist economy. Much as the Sept. 11 terrorists targeted the World Trade Center because of its importance to global commerce, these terrorists attacked the vehicle through which Indians -- and poor people throughout the world -- have been able to pull themselves up to better stations in life.
India's economy has already had a rough year, as it suffers through the effects of a global slowdown. In October, the country saw its first drop in exports in seven years. Some have expressed worries that the terrorist attacks will scare off businesses, completely derailing India's economy. Despite the deep human tragedy surrounding this story, this scenario seems far-fetched.
Companies operating in India and South Asia are under no illusions about the region's various religious, ethnic and political conflicts, which occasionally erupt into dangerous situations. The recent attacks may cause tourism to slump, and delay investment activity as new security measures are put in place, but the effects are likely to be short-term.
Specifically, manufacturers like General Motors (NYSE: GM ) and South Korean electronics giant Samsung expressed no concerns about their Indian investments, pointing to the country's longer-term growth potential. In spite of the growing economic headwinds, the International Monetary Fund expects India's economy to grow nearly 8% this year and more than 6% next year. While that figure's down from more than 9% the past two years, it's still heady growth -- especially compared to estimates of low single-digit growth this year, and negative growth in 2009, for the U.S. and Western Europe.
If the terrorists' goal was to derail India's transformation from a command-control economy to a market-based one, they're certainly on the side of history, not the future.
Don't forget about China
While India has its domestic issues to deal with, China is frantically trying to prevent a worsening of its own. Analysts estimate that China needs to grow by roughly 10% per year in order to create enough jobs to support the mass migration of its people to its cities. While this number may be a little high, the principle is sound: In order to maintain calm among -- or more importantly, control over -- a population topping 1.3 billion, the Communist Party needs to provide opportunities for the people it's indoctrinated to believe in the power of the state to support their lives and livelihoods.
With a stock market that has plummeted more than 60% in the past year, and demand for its loads of export goods falling to record lows, the Chinese government is facing increasing ire from its citizens. Former employers of bankrupt toy factories are protesting to get back pay and benefits. Taxi drivers are using rush-hour protests to air their grievances. Even the police are getting fed up with wages that aren't keeping up with inflation -- a crisis that prompts the question, "Who puts a stop to a police protest in China?"
But what can be done?
The Chinese government hasn't been sitting idly by. The recently announced $586 billion stimulus package is focused on infrastructure, schools, and health care. This should provide opportunities for foreign companies like General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) , as well as domestic job growth in certain areas of the country. However, it provides little relief for toy factories in Guangdong, which are facing drastic drops in orders from Hasbro (NYSE: HAS ) and Mattel (NYSE: MAT ) .
Recognizing this, the Chinese central bank took additional steps to provide some juice to the economy. Last week, it lowered its benchmark interest rate by more than 1%, the most in 11 years. It's already taken steps to increase lending to businesses and home buyers, to help stimulate small business activity and put a floor on collapsing residential markets.
In a new step that has raised the ire of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, the Chinese government has also allowed the yuan to depreciate against the dollar, hoping to provide a cushion to exporters and prevent a further rash of bankruptcies.
Ending in a Thai
One emerging market to keep an eye on is Thailand, where protesters took over the main international and domestic airports in Bangkok for a week, stranding thousands of passengers and costing the country's tourist industry billions in lost revenue. Thai Airways said that the protests had cost it a minimum of $560 million, and that it would seek redress by suing those responsible for encouraging the protests.
As a result of the pro-democracy protests, embattled Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat resigned, and a Constitutional Court banned him from politics for five years. This is the culmination of six months of protests that have divided the country. This year, the Thai stock market has declined by almost 60% during the prolonged crisis. Should you wish to "invest on the cannons," perhaps the easiest way to do so is with the closed-end Thai Fund (NYSE: TTF ) .
The future is the key
These events should reinforce the additional levels of risk involved in international investing, but they shouldn't deter investors from looking for opportunity abroad. Despite the current struggles throughout the world, we here at Global Gains are convinced that global investing provides the greatest opportunity for today's investors. Aside from fishing in a rapidly growing global pond, international investing also gives you direct exposure to the fastest-growing markets in the world.
The current challenges facing China, India, and to some extent Thailand are the natural speed bumps that come with rapid development, not long-term reversals. We think the resulting price drops are providing us with ample opportunity to capitalize on the growth story of the next century. Join us to learn our favorite international stocks for new money now by clicking here for a free 30-day trial.