As growth in the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) has slowed in recent years, the search for a new emerging-market acronym has begun in earnest. Goldman Sachs, whose chief economist Jim O'Neil coined BRIC over a decade ago, has since introduced MIST, referring to Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey. The Economist and HSBC bank, meanwhile, have both been pushing CIVETS -- Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa.
I would like to offer up another alternative: PIPE, short for the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt.
Meet the PIPEs
The PIPEs share a lot of noteworthy qualities. They all have average incomes that are between $1,200 and $,3600, making them wage-competitive yet not nearly as impoverished as countries like Bangladesh or Cambodia. They have four of the eight largest populations among countries with average incomes below $10,000. Except for Indonesia, which has the sixth-largest economy of any emerging market, they also have the world's 15th-, 16th-, and 17th-largest developing economies, respectively.
None of the PIPE countries is dependent on any single region to consume its exports, unlike other prominent economies such as Mexico, Turkey, South Korea, and Thailand. Moreover, they depend on exports for an average of just 21% of their GDP, which is well below the norm for developing economies. Both of these things could help to keep the PIPEs relatively insulated from future economic crises.
All the PIPEs except Indonesia have some of the largest English-speaking populations in the developing world. Indonesia, meanwhile, became the world's fourth-fastest adopter of English in 2013, according to English First. This could be quite beneficial for the PIPEs. For example, it has already helped the Philippines and Pakistan become the second- and third-most common destinations for online freelance outsourcing outside of Europe and North America, according to digital workspace company Elance.
The Philippines and Indonesia possess the first- and second-longest coastlines in the world, respectively, outside of the Arctic region. This gives them enormous potential in industries like tourism, shipping, and offshore energy production, most of which has not yet been realized. Egypt and Pakistan, meanwhile, are the two largest countries in the world to be oriented around a single river (the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in Pakistan). This helps them to achieve national unity; Egypt, for instance, has not had a civil war for well over a century, in contrast to most other Arab states which have experienced civil wars in the past twenty years alone.
Finally, all of the PIPEs are located in areas that are likely to become the primary corridors of global trade as the developing world continues to rise. Egypt has the Suez Canal and the African-Eurasian land bridge; Indonesia has the Indonesian Straits (most notably the Strait of Malacca); Pakistan has the Strait of Hormuz and the Silk Road; and the Philippines has the waterways that link Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia-New Zealand, and the Americas.
Investing in the PIPEs
There are many ways to invest in the PIPE economies. Perhaps the simplest way to do so is to purchase index funds or ETFs that attempt to track the overall stock market of each country. The iShares MSCI Philippines Investable Market Index Fund (NYSEMKT:EPHE), for example, almost doubled between January 2012 and May 2013, but has since come down by more than 15% as emerging markets in general have experienced a difficult year. This correction may prove an attractive buying opportunity, as it was reflective not of a concern about the fundamentals of the Philippine economy in particular, but rather of worrying events in other developing economies, such as the conflict in Ukraine, protests in Turkey and Latin America, and growing economic anxieties in China.
Alternatively, you could invest in some of the few PIPE-based companies that trade on American exchanges, such as Telekomunikasi Indonesia (NYSE:TLK), one of Indonesia's two largest telecommunications providers. Despite its somewhat volatile history, TLK seems like a relatively safe bet. Given its size, the company should serve as a decent tracker of the Indonesian economy outside of the country's massive natural-resource sector (which you probably want to avoid anyway, given its heavy reliance on China's demand for foreign commodities). Telekomunikasi Indonesia is likely to benefit from Indonesia's emerging middle class, as well as from its expanding tourism infrastructure.
In addition, the Indonesian government probably views the introduction of modern communications as one of the best ways of promoting national unity and rural development. Indonesia is one of the most challenging countries in the world to develop; its 247 million inhabitants are dispersed across a tropical and highly mountainous archipelago of five large islands and thousands of smaller islands occupying an area of the ocean that is wider than the continental United States. Without telecommunications, therefore, Indonesia will not be able to cohere as a nation or develop its many remote territories.
The PIPEs are not risk-free, of course. Few emerging markets are. However, in an era when Europe's and Japan's populations are rapidly aging and China's economic growth has finally begun to slow, the PIPEs might be one of the best long-term international investments you could make. Their size, diversified export patterns, ability to speak English, and location astride the world's fastest-growing trade routes mean their economies could become piping-hot in the future.