Spotting Risk and Opportunity in Emerging Markets

Ian Bremmer: So if you’re a businessman and you’re thinking about how to incorporate political risk in your investment strategies, what do you need to do? First, diversify. Emerging markets are much more unstable than the developed world. If you were investing in the last 40 years and you wanted to just be in the United States or just be in a couple of European countries that was okay, but if you’re investing primarily in emerging markets the outcomes can be radically disparate and very quickly, which means you’re going to have to take a lot more bets to have the same sort of type of risk profile. That’s important to know. It can be difficult to do.

Another point is that you need to be a first mover because in an environment where there is a lot of political risk folks that come in early actually can help shape the environment, the political environment, the regulatory environment, the joint venture environment to be tailored towards them. Second and third movers won’t necessarily benefit from an environment that has been tailored for a guy that invested before you did. That is much more important in places where legal structures and systems are much more opaque and much more fluid than it is in a country like the United States.

And the other thing I would say is that from a broader investor perspective and not looking at it as a businessman is that we’ve talked about emerging markets as if they are in some ways a united asset class. They’re not. The Jasmine Revolution was never going to happen in China. The average Chinese after 30 years of 10% plus state directed growth is happier with their government than the average American is today with the American government. There is a lot of stability in China over the near to medium term. There isn’t in Tunisia. There isn’t in Libya. There isn’t in Thailand. There isn’t in Sri Lanka. There isn’t in Argentina. There are other countries that haven’t blown up yet where there is very strong political instability and yet people that want to invest in emerging markets their funds, the growth funds in your retirement accounts. They say put my money in emerging markets. Frankly, there is going to be a lot of volatility around something like that. To the extent that you have the ability to pick and choose, you want to.

The global risk expert explains the three crucial things you must know if you plan to invest in the developing world.

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