I'm not saying a wallaby could definitely run Australia, but of all of the countries in the world, Australia might be the one where it would have the best chance of success. And that's not just because Australia is one of the very few places wallabies live. It's also because the country has ample natural resources and is close to resource-hungry emerging Asia, so stable economic growth and an increasing tax base are all but assured.
This reality makes Australia the envy of governments the world over. The Europeans, for example, can't seem to create enough money out of thin air to kick-start their own moribund economies. It's also a reality that should embolden long-term investors. Peter Lynch used to say that he liked investing in companies that a monkey could run. We're changing the animal because we're Down Under, but the same concept applies: Long-term investors should also be attracted to countries a wallaby could run. Add enough exposure to these countries to your portfolio, and you don't have to worry as much about political risk. That's a nice benefit right now, as unrest is reshaping the politics of North Africa.
Be careful what you wish for
Of course, there's a sense among some Australians that the country is being run by wallabies. Despite having a land mass roughly the size of the United States and just 23 million inhabitants, Australia has ended up with a massive housing bubble. It's nearly impossible for middle-class Australians to buy a home. What's more, the wealth that's recently been created in the country has been concentrated in the mining sector, not spread among the general population. Consumer confidence is slumping, and households' assessments of their financial situations have declined year over year. It doesn't sound like a country profiting from a multi-decade commodity boom, does it?
And yet -- as long as mining profits keep flowing in for the next five, 10, or 20 years -- all these problems can be fixed. The velocity of money should pick up, consumer confidence should rebound, and investors should start to see Australia's currently out-of-favor retail sector as a bargain buying opportunity. The key to it all, of course, is China.
The new Red Menace
When I asked some friends here how much time the average Australian spends thinking about China, they said, "Not very much." But when I asked them how much time the Australian government spends thinking about China, they replied, "A lot, but not enough."
That's a bit of a cryptic answer, but it makes sense as the economic ties between the countries continue to grow without parallel growth in diplomacy. See, on the economic side, it's easy to declare China and Australia BFFs. Trade between the countries was up 20% in 2010, to almost $90 billion, and China has invested some $34 billion in Australia. The two countries continue to work together on a proposed free-trade agreement.
The politics, however, have been rockier. An article in The Australian over the weekend declared that "Canberra drops ball over Beijing," noting that new Prime Minister Julia Gillard "has yet to visit, or even engage with China in any meaningful way, after eight months in the job."
This isn't the only Australian administration that has struggled to interact with China. I haven't met anyone who was satisfied with the Australian government's actions after Australian national and former Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu was arrested in China in 2009. (Hu remains in Chinese prison.) Further, Australians continue to debate, just as we do in the States, how to interpret China's recently rising military spending. If China seeks to exert influence in the Eastern Hemisphere, Australia could end up isolated.
What's clear, though, is that the two countries need each other -- and the pleasantries will eventually catch up. As for the Global Gains team, our feeling is that if we believe in China, we have to believe in Australia. And because our on-the-ground research trips to China have left us confident about that country's growth prospects over the next 10 to 20 years, we feel pretty good about the opportunities we stand to uncover this week in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney.
Our meetings kick off tomorrow, starting with Australia's largest gold miner and a brewer you may have heard of. To sign up for our real-time email dispatches, simply enter your email address in the box below:
Tim Hanson is co-advisor of Motley Fool Global Gains.