Friday, April 9, 2010

Emerging into Bankruptcy

This week Greece cynically tried putting lipstick on a PIIG by pitching itself as an emerging market. Unfortunately for Greece, it is anything but. Greece is a sinking market. It showcases none of the characteristics that have made investors salivate over the previously moribund locales now classified as EMs. Greece has no surging birth rate, no light regulation, no unique, fortuitously timed skill sets, no trough of dearly needed commodities, and with its public sector mafia putting the piano wire to prosperity in plain sight, certainly no opportunity for labor arbitrage. Come to think of it, you could say much the same of all the PIIGS (Ireland aside). Maybe they should drop Ireland and repackage themselves as the Aging Tigers.

To state the obvious: "Emerging market" doesn't just mean dirt poor. Rather, it is supposed to roughly denote a country that is growing quickly on its way OUT OF poverty. If poverty were the only criterion, Jim Rogers would be sporting a Pakistani flag bow-tie. And just because an area is poor doesn't mean it is about to start "emerging." Just ask North Korea. When you see Detroit municipal bonds being touted as red hot "emerging market" munis, you'll know the EM bubble is on your doorstep.

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