Whenever the Global Gains team takes off on an international stock research trip, we always meet with our lawyers beforehand to make sure we won't run afoul of any local laws. If we're heading to a country such as China, the meetings can be, shall we say, interesting. But our pre-brief for Australia was straightforward, ending with our chief legal officer reminding us that we have both insurance and lawyers -- two things that might actually help if we ran into trouble. He even told us to have fun.
This relative safety is one of the main reasons you should be intrigued about investing Down Under. Australia is closely tied to the Asian growth story, but unlike in the emerging Asian economies, investors don't face the same risks related to corruption and corporate governance. In fact, Transparency International ranks Australia the eighth-least-corrupt country in the world. That puts it 14 spots ahead of the United States, 70 spots ahead of China, and 79 spots ahead of India. What's more, thanks to the country's developed financial system, Australian companies publish thorough and reliable financial reports. At a time when numbers from Chinese companies are regularly being questioned, that's a welcome reality.
Feeding the next economic superpowers
But Australia's most attractive trait isn't its top-10 transparency rating, common-law tradition, or fair treatment of investors. Rather, it's that two of the country's top three export markets are China and India, which together account for more than 25% of total export share. Those also happen to be two of the world's fastest-growing economies -- and the two most likely to become economic superpowers.
Just what is Australia exporting to these rising superpowers? Almost everything they need to sustain their growth, such as coal, iron ore, petroleum, and natural gas. The country is also looking to increase its production of valuable rare earth metals following China's decision to limit its exports of them.
These are enormous potential markets. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that emerging Asia markets will almost double their coal consumption by 2035, driven by consumption in China and India. That's nearly 3% annual volume growth. Tack on the likely price increases as demand widens and supply tightens, and the Australian coal industry -- from the miners to the assayers to the equipment providers to the railroads that carry the coal from point A to point B -- should be feeling pretty good about the next 20 or 30 years.
Coal isn't the only thing that burns
Coal, however, isn't the only commodity in play here. The demand for iron ore, oil, gas, and copper in emerging Asian markets is also rising, and Australia stands ready to supply all four. One of the more interesting meetings we have planned over the next two weeks is with a company that's just started exploring for and validating its reserves of coal seam gas. This form of natural gas is trapped deep in the earth and is expensive to extract. Yet if natural gas prices are high enough, this could be a profitable business -- and Australia has some of the biggest reserves of the stuff in the world. Stephen Robertson, Queensland State's Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, once called his area's coal seam gas reserves "virtually inexhaustible."
All in all, Australia is a relatively safe developed market with superior growth prospects. That's an alluring combination and one that, in this day and age, is truly one of a kind. That's why we're so excited to start meeting with companies on the ground and report back to you on what we find.
If you've read our trip reports before, you'll enjoy what's shaping up to be our busiest trip ever. If you're new, you can join along by having the latest insights from our company meetings emailed directly to you. Simply enter your email in the box below so we know where to send the dispatches.
Tim Hanson is co-advisor of Motley Fool Global Gains.