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Can Emerging Market Growth Continue?

Feb 25, 2008
We've all heard about the amazing growth taking place in developing countries and how the global economy will never be the same again. But countries like China, India and Vietnam seem so far away. It can be hard to understand how those marketplaces can affect the individual investor here in the U.S.A. After my recent trip to Cambodia, I'm here to tell you that emerging markets aren't some short-lived fad. We've only begun to see the impact they will have in the financial markets.

My wife and I had visited Cambodia last March, but this time was different. Besides having our four children along for the experience, the signs of a growing economy were everywhere. Construction was taking place all around Phnom Penh, the nation's capital. A new 42 story office building had broken ground, the country's first skyscraper. It's being financed by a South Korean company. A huge new complex of shops and office buildings were coming up on old rice fields north of town in a special economic zone.

Masses of new apartment buildings were being constructed. The prices of these condo/apartments continue to increase. Those that were $40,000 when construction started are now $100,000. Land values continue to soar exponentially. More people can afford cars. Everyone has a cell phone. Universities and schools teaching everything from nursing to English classes to management and computer skills are popping up on every corner. And the schools are packed.

The city continues to improve its infrastructure with the paving of roads and improvement of their drainage system, which is important during the monsoon season. Internet access is growing, as is the availability of cable television. But there's much work to be done. Power outages occur almost daily. The municipal water isn't potable. The sewer system has a very limited reach. There is no mass public transportation service in a city of well over 1 million. There's little garbage collection.

Just outside of town, the picture is even starker. When you travel out to the provinces, it's like stepping back in time. Once you get off the main highway, there are no paved roads. Many homes are simple wooden shacks with thatch roofs. Naked children play with sticks in the road next to ditches that are little more than open sewers. Electricity comes from generators that operate a few hours a day. Health care is almost non-existent. The rice grown in the fields hardly supplies enough grain for each family's yearly needs.

Not all provincial families live in dire poverty. But the majority do. The young people don't want the same life their parents have. They want more. And they're willing to work for it. Many of them turn to the garment factories, where by working six to seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, they can make $100 a month. In country where unemployment can reach 50%, that's a nice sum of money. But it's not much of a life.

Others realize that education is their ticket to a better future. The church we visited and were working with offers free English and computer classes. Over 200 students jam every available room of the building four nights a week. In addition, all of these kids attend either high school or university during the day. Many of them came from the provinces and plan to send money they earn back home to help support their families.

So if you think the emerging markets, is just the latest financial talk point, think again. The story in Cambodia is the same story all over Asia. These people want a better life. They want a higher standard of living. They are becoming educated. Their countries are only beginning to improve their infrastructure. Astute companies from around the world are investing big bucks into these economies. And the growth is only going to increase.

This isn't a five year fad. It will take decades for these countries to grow into modern nations. But there's no going back. The young people we met are determined and focused. This generation will do what it takes to succeed.

Your generation worked very hard to achieve financial security. In today's changing global marketplace, you'll have to invest smarter in order to maintain it. In next week's article, I'll give you practical steps to take advantage of the opportunities these emerging markets provide.
About the Author
In addition to being a nationally syndicated columnist and Certified Financial Planning Practitioner, Mr. Voudrie provides personal, private money management services to clients nationwide.

Read more articles at www.guardingyourwealth.com.
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