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Thrilla in Manila Redux

While a Chinese sage didn’t actually utter the words, “may you live in interesting times,” the past week has been just that. With investors worried that China, the world’s second largest economy, might be slipping into a recession, stock markets have been at their most volatile since 2011.

The Shanghai Composite Index has shed better than 22% over the past five days alone, while our own Dow Jones Industrials have swung from being virtually flat on the year last week to a 7.7% loss. While the Chinese might not want to be the world’s workshop anymore, the rest of us are clearly still counting on them.

While the Asian markets have been the hardest hit amidst the China worries, some have fared better than others. One country that has done better than most recently is the Philippines, where the nation’s benchmark PSEi Index is off just 1.3% so far this year.

One of the main reasons the country’s stocks have done so well is that the country’s economy is still humming along in relatively high gear. Gross domestic product in the archipelago rose 5.6% in second quarter, just shy of the government’s 5.7% forecast but up from 5% growth in the prior quarter. That makes it the third-fastest growing economy in the Asia-Pacific region, behind just China and Vietnam.

A major reason for the solid growth in the Philippines is its diversified economy. Like most countries in the region, the Philippines is fairly dependent on exports for growth. But unlike most of the others, China isn’t the country’s biggest trading partner. In fact, Japan is typically the country’s top trading partner accounting for 14.5% of total trade, following by the U.S. at about 13%. China actually comes in third at just 12%, and it imports more from the Philippines then it exports to the country. Overall, the ASEAN nations – which don’t include China – are the country’s largest trading partners at nearly a quarter of total trade.

Another major plus for the country’s economy is that it has a surprisingly advanced manufacturing base. Electronic products such as semiconductors are the Philippines’ largest export, accounting for more than 40% of total exports. Raw commodities such as crude oil or ore barely figure into the country’s export picture, leaving it insulated from the crushing decline we’ve seen in the prices recently.

The country also gets a boost from remittances, the money sent home by expat Filipinos working overseas. Last year the more than 10 million Filipinos working outside the country sent $24.3 billion home, accounting for about a tenth of the country’s gross domestic product and giving consumer spending a huge boost.

Between the lesser role China plays in the country’s trade and the boost it’s getting from chip demand for tablets and smartphones, as well as all the money being sent home, the Philippines is economically well-positioned. Barring a total collapse of the Chinese economy, which would wreak havoc on most of the world, the Philippines will keep chugging along.

At Pacific Wealth, we hold the iShares MSCI Philippines ETF (NYSE: EPHE) in our Conservative Portfolio. The fund holds a basket of 45 stocks which is fairly representative of the country’s stock market. About 40% of assets are in financial companies such as banks and real estate firms, followed by industrials at 21% and telecoms at 12%. Utilities and consumer stocks much up most of the fund’s other holdings.

The fund has had something of a rough ride in 2015, down about 9.9% so far. While it probably won’t match the 22.1% return it turned in last year since we’re already at the end of August, it bounced almost 6% higher yesterday alone. Yes, you read that right – it rose by 5.7% just yesterday and, as I write this, it is up another 3%.

So while China might be the world’s second-largest economy and a major driver of global growth, there are still plenty of other opportunities in Asia. Now that we’re past the initial panic, the markets are obviously realizing that the Philippines have promise, no matter what happens in China.


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