by Martin Hutchinson, Money Morning
I like Australia's stock market right now. I think it provides you with a ton of upside potential.
Virtually every analyst on Wall Street disagrees, of course. They hate Australia. But they didn't like Chile, either, where we're up 46%. And they weren't crazy about Indonesia - another market that's making us good money.
Independent thinking pays well, plain and simple. And right now, Australia can pay you extremely well.
And there's more than one way you can make money.
The broad-based ETF is the no-brainer, of course. Based on the country's economic growth rate, it could increase twice as fast as the S&P 500.
But you can do even better by picking up shares of one (or all three) of Australia's best companies, as you'll see.
This is just a great place to grow your money right now, for three reasons...
1. You Get Faster, Asset-Backed Growth
Australia is projected to grow significantly faster than the United States this year - 2.5% compared to 1.7%. Next year's estimates: 2.9% versus 2.7%.
It's not a blistering 10%, of course. But remember...
Australia has the "commodities edge," too.
Its economy is built on resource demand, from both developed and emerging markets around the globe.
And now that we have signs of a bottom in precious metals, and inevitable price hikes in commodities overall, this is key.
When the Asian engine revs up again, Australia is going to be the prime beneficiary.
Australia has the oil, industrial commodities, and agricultural products that fuel the world - and Asia in particular. When the Eastern engine revs back up, Australia will be the prime beneficiary.
2. You'll Win Either Way in September
Another issue that has kept the Aussie market on hold is that national elections are pending in early September.
Many outsiders are waiting until a party takes power in this closely contested race. But the fact is, it doesn't matter who wins. Both parties are focused on keeping the Aussie market going.
It's worth noting here that Australia sits in third place on the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, behind other Asia powerhouses Hong Kong and Singapore. Given Heritage's political preferences, that's a pretty good tribute to Australia's ability to avoid socialist reforms, even from its Labor governments.
3. You'll Pay 30% Less Than Everyone Else
Most people won't invest in Australia until they get "confirmation," a moment also known as "too late."
You, on the other hand, are right on time.
Aussie shares trade at 18.7 times earnings at the moment. That's just about the same rating as the New York market.
But its 4.1% yield is twice as high as New York's.
You see, Australian companies still have the habit of paying decent dividends. Unlike share repurchases, which benefit insiders and institutions, cold, hard cash distributions benefit you.
And as a whole, the dividend-rich market is still trading 30% below the peak reached in early 2008. So there's plenty of room for further advances.
How to Make Money
The simplest way to play Australia is the iShares MSCI Australia Index ETF (NYSE: EWA).
This has net assets of $1.9 billion, a nice yield of 6.1%, and an expense ratio of only 0.53%. Four of its largest five holdings, however, are banks, so its exposure to the growth-oriented resources sector is only limited. You get Aussie exposure without getting too involved in the volatile commodities markets directly.
There's also a stock that offers the safety of broad exposure to the Australian economy, as well as some direct investment in the dynamic commodities and energy sectors, with an emphasis on retailing, coal mining, fertilizer, and insurance -- Wesfarmers Limited (OTC: WFAFY).
It's selling at 19 times trailing earnings and about 17 times forward earnings, with a yield of 3.5%. When growth returns, you'll be sitting on a solid (and likely growing) dividend, as well as healthy capital gains from all sectors. A nice total return pick.
Australia's largest company, and the world's largest mining company, is BHP Billiton Limited (NYSE: BBL). BBL is well diversified both geographically and product-wise, with interests in energy, iron ore, copper, silver, lead zinc, molybdenum, and gold. BHP is currently trading at only 12.5 times forecast 2014 earnings, with a 3.7% dividend yield, although in terms of net asset value, it is fully priced at 2.4 times.
Still, it's probably the easiest and most direct way to play Asian growth. But you need to bear in mind that it's a direct play in commodities and is going to be volatile. This is not for the faint of heart. For example, BHP recently reported earnings and, due to the "China Syndrome," had a 30% drop in revenues and a loss of $5 billion year over year.
But a $2.7 billion move into the potash sector (key to the agriculture sector) promises to be a smart investment in coming quarters.
Another direct play is Australia's largest oil company, Woodside Petroleum (OTC: WOPEY). At this point, China is the most energy-hungry nation on the planet, and all countries in its economic sphere of influence are in the same energy-starved situation.
Woodside has a thirsty Gargantua on its doorstep and will benefit accordingly once growth kicks in again. It's trading at only 9.6 times trailing earnings, with earnings expected to increase modestly in 2013. Assuming it doesn't repeat the special dividend it paid in May, WOPEY will give you a dividend yield of about 3.2%. That's a nice piece of cash to wait for things to turn around in Asia.