Earlier this year I chose Argentina as my number one investment destination for 2016. Prior to the election of Mauricio Macri, I was a harsh critic of the Kirchner government, because not only were they corrupt, but also because Argentina had for all intents and purposes been isolated by the rest of the world due entirely to that administration’s behavior.
When Mr. Macri was elected in the final round of voting, I lifted a glass of Argentinian Malbec to him because I knew he would deliver, and deliver he has. The ink was still wet on the official document proclaiming him president when he decided to hit the road running, and he hasn’t stopped. The recent bond sale was a clear indication that the country is being welcomed back into the fold and there is great optimism for the future direction of Argentina. It must have brought smiles to the faces of foreign investors to read this April 19 headline from The Wall Street Journal: “Argentina Returns to Global Debt Markets With $16.5 Billion Bond Sale”. It was interesting to note that there was strong participation in the sale by insurance companies, pension plans, hedge funds, and some sovereign wealth funds. Not only from Latin America, but also from the U.S. and Europe.
For the first time in more than a decade, Argentina participated in the Global Economic Conference in Davos, and Mr. Macri was a very visible presence there. All good news. However, Mr. Macri will have his work cut out for him to control inflation and put policies in place to strengthen the Peso, which plummeted once capital controls were lifted at the end of 2015.
Currently, interest rates are hovering around 37%, which has actually presented a problem to the Central Bank. There is so much enthusiasm surrounding investing in Argentina, that the bank had to step in and control the purchase of the Peso. Argentina needs high interest rates to control inflation, which currently runs about 30%.
The current inflow of U.S. dollars had caused the Peso to increase in value from 16 to 14 against the US Dollar in only a couple of months. It wasn’t so long ago that Argentina needed U.S. dollars but couldn’t attract investors; now they can afford to be selective, even though they still need those inflows. A good problem to have, no doubt. And now on to equities and the reasons why I believe Argentina is the investment destination of 2016.
The Buenos Aires Stock Market Index (MERVAL) since its low on January 20 gained a whopping 48% by April 22, but since then has fallen back somewhat. This, in my opinion, is a great buying opportunity of specific stocks in specific sectors that I believe will perform well this year. The gradual rise in the price of a barrel of oil over the last few months presents a possible investment opportunity in YPF (YPF) which is an oil and gas exploration company. YPF has had a turbulent past, and the prior administration nationalized the company by entirely kicking out a major stockholder, Repsal. However, under the Macri administration there will be much less interference with the operations of the company, which may be one reason why it has a year-to-date return of 37.21%.
My second stock selection is Arcos Dorados Holdings (ARCO) which is a restaurant and hotel company. My rationale here is based on consumer confidence rising in Argentina, which will in turn translate into more discretionary income being spent. This company has a year-to-date return of 44%.
My third choice is Pampa Energia (PAM) which is involved in the generation and transmission of electricity and should benefit greatly by a probable increase in GDP. The stock has a lot of upside, even though it has a one-year return of 51%.
My final stock choice is for those who like to live on the edge a little, like me, and don’t mind volatility. With the surge in alternate energy and primarily batteries from Apple (AAPL) to Tesla (TSLA), Argentina has a lot to offer in the form of lithium, which is extracted from salt in brine pools. Argentina has the second largest deposit in the world, and as demand increases so, I believe, will the price of International Lithium Corp (ILHMF), a Canadian exploration company currently traded on the OTC pink sheets at 20 cents per share.
In closing, I hope you agree with me that Argentina presents tremendous upside for investors. But more importantly, the biggest winners will be the citizens, who not only booted out a corrupt regime but managed to stop the pink tide dead in its tracks. Now where did I put my glass of Malbec?
Peter Kohli, CEO of emerging market specialist DMS Funds.