So far, I've completely missed the India opportunity -- or at least I've let it pass me by. And although there's still more to come from India, now may be the time to lie low.
Sure, growth has continued to be great lately. Reports last week showed the Indian economy growing at 9.2% for the quarter ended Sept. 30, a rate outpacing the impressive 8.9% that economists had predicted. Indian stocks haven't had such a bad time, either. IT specialists Wipro
Yet it's exactly this fiery growth that has The Economist, among others, worried about India's prospects for keeping up the pace. In a recent report, The Economist cited a spike in consumer price inflation, a doubling of city housing prices in the past two years, and the raging equity markets, which sport a marketwide P/E of 20, as reasons to question whether India can experience sustained healthy growth at this rate.
A trip to the movies
Nevertheless, I didn't want to write off India altogether, even if I did miss the first bite. That's why it caught my eye when I saw a news release that Adlabs, the largest entertainment company in India, is looking to acquire as many as 350 movie halls.
That's notable, because India's film industry is the largest in the world in terms of the number of films released. It turned out nearly 900 feature releases in 2003, versus fewer than 500 in the United States. India's film industry dates to 1896, and it's been a big part of the culture, giving rise to various regional industry centers, including the well-known Bollywood in Mumbai. As India continues along its growth and modernization trajectory, significant activity in its film industry will surely follow. And as the Indian IT workers, for example, find themselves with a bit more disposable income, more potential revenue will be available for theater operators and movie distributors.
Unfortunately, digging into Adlabs was a rather disappointing experience. Though it's a stable, growing business with nice 35% EBITDA margins, it has not exactly flown under the radar. On a trailing basis, the company currently fetches an EBITDA multiple of more than 50 and a slightly higher P/E multiple. With its historical top-line growth of about 25%, you've hardly got a case to support those multiples. Even worse, as the company moves further into the theater-operations business, margins are likely to take a hit. Though they have tasty margins right now, theater operations are easily the company's lowest-margin sector. Not to mention that the single-digit net margins and relatively lackluster business of the United States' own Regal Entertainment Group don't exactly make for a swimming endorsement of the movie-theater business.
But wait . there's more
Fortunately, there's more to India than Adlabs or the movie business. There are also the great IT outsourcing businesses, including Wipro, Satyam, and Infosys
Finding other potential opportunities in India is as easy as heading to the home page for the Bombay Stock Exchange and taking a look at the constituents of its major indices. On the list for the SENSEX, in addition to the familiar IT names, you'll find companies such as Bharti Airtel, the country's top mobile and telecom provider; Associated Cement, India's top cement and ready-mix concrete provider; and ITC, a conglomerate that does everything from cigarettes and branded apparel to hotels and IT. Though most of the companies in the SENSEX are not cross-listed on one of the U.S. exchanges, you can still purchase them on the OTC market.
Still not quite satisfied, since I was ideally looking for something that I could buy on a major U.S. exchange, I turned to The Motley Fool's new investing community, Motley Fool CAPS, and punched in "India" in the tags section. What I got was a nice list of 14 U.S.-listed India-based stocks, complete with the CAPS community's opinion on them. While I already knew to steer clear from "India's Google," the one-star-rated Rediff.com
Five-star Tata Motors
Of course, even if you're not quite ready to take a plunge into India, or if you think that it's just too hot to handle right now, it's definitely not the only place in the world besides the U.S. to find good growth. As the Motley Fool's new Global Gains newsletter service shows, there's great growth to be found worldwide. So broaden your horizons, and check out some of the areas off U.S. soil that many investors may be overlooking! If you'd like some help, feel free to try Global Gainsfree for 30 days.
Foolin' all over the world:
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer always says that the hotter the curry the better -- though he knows that more heat doesn't work the same way with inflation. He does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is always so cool, it's hot.