The West is doomed – so why not head to Iran instead?

Stockmarkets in the developed world will struggle in the next decade. Emerging markets such as Iran and China are the place to be, says Matthew Lynn.


Iran is potentially a very wealthy and stable country and a vast market to tap into

Greece is about to tumble out of the eurozone. Britain is about to quit the European Union. The Federal Reserve is about to raise interest rates for the first time in nine years. Abenomics may collapse before it has done anything to revive the Japanese economy.

The markets are dominated by day-to-day dramas that quickly take up everyone's attention and may well create the impression the whole system is about to collapse.

Yet, rather more quietly, something far more significant may be happening. Some major new stockmarkets are starting to open up. Such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and, of course, China, which, despite the falls of the last two weeks, is still on course to grow into the biggest in the world.

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In the medium-term, the markets are driven mainly by the development of new economies that you can actually invest in and, on that measure, the outlook is a lot better than the day-to-day headlines might suggest.

Vast emerging markets

That is going to open up a vast new market. Iran is a big country, and potentially a wealthy and stable one. It has 78 million people, and that figure is growing fast. At $437bn, it's already the 27th-largest economy in the world, similar in size to Argentina and ahead of Austria or Thailand. It could certainly be as important as Turkey, and perhaps more so Turkey, after all, does not have any oil. It could easily become one of the hottest emerging markets.

But Iran is not the only big new economy opening up. Saudi Arabia has, of course,been a wealthy country for a long time it is hard not to be when you have that much oil. This year, it has finally opened up its stockmarket to foreign investors. True, there are still plenty of restrictions, and it is hard to know whether the country can ever diversify enough to remain stable and keep growing as oil declines in importance. But it is a big market at $570bn, it is already bigger than Russia or Mexico.

The same is true of Vietnam. From September, the rules that limited foreign ownership of Vietnamese companies to 49% will be lifted. You can buy the whole lot if you want to. Again, Vietnam is hardly short of potential. With 90 million people, and growth of nearly 6% a year, it could easily grow as fast as Taiwan and South Korea did a generation ago as it liberalises its Communist regime.

Then, of course, there is the really big one: China. Admittedly, investors may not want to know about China right now, after the collapse in its equity markets over the last fortnight. But hey, did anyone out there seriously think China was going to be anything other than aroller-coaster ride? The fact remains that, over the medium term, it will be a huge equity market and quite probably the biggest in the world. Late last year some of the restrictions on foreign investors were ended which was one reason equities rose so rapidly in the early part of 2015.

What really matters to investors

But those four countries have the potential to provide both faster growth and increasing openness to outside investors. They may be joined by others as well, especially if Africa and the Gulf can keep growing.

In reality, many stockmarkets in the developed world are going to struggle in the next decade. Most are only at, or around, their highs of 2000, which means there have been 15 years without any meaningful growth. Economies are stagnating and the growth of private equity and other alternative investment markets means fewer companies are listed every year. Growth is pretty meagre and what there is is not necessarily going to be shared with outside investors.

But the new markets are different. They are hungry for capital and they are packed with developing companies that can grow at a rate that will make most British, American, or German rivals seem sluggish. If you can buy into them for the first time, then the chances are that they will provide decent profits.

Fast-growing companies in developing economies, along with technology, are what really drive returns in the medium term. Most of the rest is just background noise. And on that front, there is a lot more good news around than bad.

Matthew Lynn

Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg, and writes weekly commentary syndicated in papers such as the Daily Telegraph, Die Welt, the Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning Post and the Miami Herald. He is also an associate editor of Spectator Business, and a regular contributor to The Spectator. Before that, he worked for the business section of the Sunday Times for ten years. 

He has written books on finance and financial topics, including Bust: Greece, The Euro and The Sovereign Debt Crisis and The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031. Matthew is also the author of the Death Force series of military thrillers and the founder of Lume Books, an independent publisher.