Viva la Mexico!
American stocks are running so high, it might be time to send some money south.
Whether you agree with his politics or not, President Trump has been very good for the markets. Banks are up on the promise of deregulation, consumer names are up on expected fiscal stimulus, and defense contractors are soaring on proposed military budget boosts.
However, despite the gloomy sentiment that pervaded the markets before the November election, stocks already had been doing well. On November 8, the S&P 500’s trailing 12-month price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio stood at 22, well above its historical average of 19. Since then the P/E has surged to 26.6 and the yield on the index has fallen from 2.3% to just 1.9%, as shares have gotten more expensive. The P/E is in nosebleed territory while the yield has dropped to pauper-making levels.
I’m a big believer in “Buy American,” but it’s tough not to see that U.S. stocks are getting expensive. There still exist attractive opportunities in select sectors, and here I’m mostly thinking construction and building stocks as President Trump’s infrastructure plans take shape.
However, we’re looking at more downside then up. The president still must get lawmakers on board for his plans and there’s no shortage of deficit hawks in the GOP-led Congress.
If President Trump’s plans are derailed or meaningful economic growth fails to materialize, overvalued stocks will tumble. While stocks have done well globally, there are few markets that have run nearly as high as U.S. equity markets.
Which brings us to Mexico. (Yes, Mexico.)
Mexican stocks have gained quite a bit of ground since their own Alamo experience in November, but they’re still well below their pre-November highs. They also appear to be undervalued.
While we still don’t have a clear picture of future U.S.-Mexico relations, especially in terms of trade policy, the simple fact is that the Mexican economy is healthy. The country’s fourth-quarter gross domestic product came in better than expected despite weaker agricultural exports, clocking 2.4% year-over-year growth compared to 2.1% in the third quarter.
Manufacturers have been setting up shop in central Mexico, where drug-related violence is relatively rare and there’s an increasingly educated workforce. Mexico’s financial minister also said recently that he’s open to renegotiating NAFTA and it’s my hunch that he’ll push for a better deal for Mexico.
What’s more, despite assertions to the contrary by some politicos, illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is actually falling. After peaking at an estimated 12.2 million unauthorized immigrants crossing the border in 2007, that number fell to 11.1 million in 2014 and continues dropping.
This statistical trend indicates that Mexicans increasingly see more opportunity in their home country, a clear sign that the Mexican economy is moving in the right direction. In fact, a recent study by economists at UC-San Diego predicts that illegal immigration will continue falling — border wall or not — thanks to growing economic opportunity in Mexico.
I wouldn’t pick specific Mexican stocks to add to your portfolio. Most of the American Depository Receipts for Mexican stocks trading on American exchanges are U.S.-focused and only indirect plays on the Mexican economy.
Instead, consider taking a small stake in an exchange-traded fund, such as iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF (NYSE: EWW).
With net assets of $1.64 billion, EWW provides broad exposure to Mexican banks and other financials, plus consumer names and materials companies, all of which should post gains in line with Mexican economic growth. Year to date, EWW has returned 4.8%.
The fund is a smart contrarian bet that much-maligned Mexico is poised to offer growth amid a volatile global investment climate.