Geographic desirability, untapped resources, investment-friendly governments, growing economies -- and corruption.
The following three countries have all qualities and more, and they're commanding attention and investment on the global stage. Each is well-situated in a rapidly emerging market. Two have elections this week that will determine their economic policy. And all are dealing with widespread corruption. But here's why you should watch them anyway.
In a six-page, full-color ad spread in last Sunday's New York Times, the president of Ghana called out Citigroup's (NYSE:C). Citibank. "Citibank has an office in Accra, but an office is not a bank," he wrote, "and with Chinese banks becoming interested, it would be better to come now rather than wait."
It's a bold statement. But Ghana is making a large push for foreign investment ahead of its Dec. 7 election, especially in the areas of banking, oil and gas, and manufacturing.
If you haven't been looking to Ghana for investment opportunities, here's what you need to know:
- There are 176 foreign-owned companies in Ghana and 129 joint ventures.
- The country claims it embraces American democratic principles and wants to build economic relations with the U.S.
- The IMF says Africa will become the world's fastest-growing region in the next five years.
- Ghana has one of last year's highest growth rates, although it's heavily dependent on exports of raw commodities and Chinese demand.
- Ghana was ranked the sixth-least-corrupt country in Africa by Transparency International's Global Corruption Perception Index for 2012, released this week.
When President John Atta Mills died suddenly in July, then-Vice President John Mahama was sworn in. In the New York Times ad, he writes: "We have embraced American democratic principles and we use the same principles to govern ourselves. The next step is to expand our economic relations with them." Mahama is favored to win the Dec. 7 election and continue the country's push for international development.
Another country holding an election this week, Romania has been no stranger to financial news. More than a month ago, I asked whether Romania was the EU's new squeaky wheel, as public corruption forced the EU to withhold more than 500 million euros intended to reimburse Romania for already completed infrastructure projects. The other side of the election will no doubt bring renewed discussions with the IMF.
But corporations aren't waiting for politics. Samsung reportedly has plans to build two photovoltaic plants outside of Bucharest, GE (NYSE:GE) recently added a turbine to an onshore wind farm, and Ford Motor Company's (NYSE:F) presence in Craiova had driven the creation of a new International Automotive Components plant. Romania could be the E.U.'s answer to alternative energy.
I remain firm that investing directly in Indonesia is risky while also acknowledging the archipelago's ideal location between Asia and Australia, young labor market, and claim to the largest economy in Southeast Asia. There's a booming middle class, one of the world's highest consumer-confidence levels, and an aggressive pursuit of foreign investments.
However, Indonesia's reputation for corruption is earned. The oil and gas industry in particular is holding its breadth after a series of scandals plagued its work in Indonesia. Four Chevron employees were jailed for two months over an alleged graft charge (they were released last week). The government ruled in November that the nation's upstream oil and gas regulator should be disbanded, which has stalled investment as international companies wait for new regulatory standards.
Rolls Royce also announced this week that both the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office and the U.S. Department of Justice "have raised concerns" about bribery and corruption at its Indonesian locations, and the company may face investigations, prosecutions, and fines.
I've maintained over the past six months that while Indonesia is a strategically important investment opportunity, investing directly in Indonesian companies, or companies with exposed risk to Indonesian authorities and regulation, remains unwise. The cost of doing business in Indonesia negates the seemingly cheap labor. It's optimistic to think things will change in the 2014 election, but that's a long way off for shareholders, corporations, and people who are jailed without just cause.