Thailand is classified as a newly industrialized country (NIC), an economic category that more or less means it has cleared the hurdle of being a developing economy, but doesn't meet the requirements for "first world" status quite yet. The NICs, which also include Mexico, China, India, and Turkey, are generally going through rapid economic growth driven by exports. Thailand's economy has been growing at roughly 5% per year, and it's ranked by the World Bank as the 19th-largest (based on real gross domestic product), just behind Argentina and Turkey, but ahead of the Netherlands and Iran.
As Bill Mann has been showing Global Gains subscribers, there are some great investment opportunities to be found outside the U.S., so here are a few words about a few Thai companies.
While you can do many things on the cheap in Thailand -- it can be less than $10 for dinners for two -- one thing you can't do cheaply is fuel up your car or motorbike. Thais in Bangkok pay roughly the same for a gallon of gas that we do in Las Vegas. And just like in the U.S., it's the energy companies that are profiting from those high prices.
While ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and PetroChina (NYSE: PTR) may be the big names globally, in Thailand, it's PTT that's cashing in on high energy prices. Worth nearly $31 billion, PTT is Thailand's largest publicly traded company and is the country's only fully integrated oil and gas company.
Where would a rapidly growing country be in this day and age without cell phones? In China, China Mobile (NYSE: CHL) has been a driving force in wireless, and Global Gains recommendation Turkcell is doing the same in Turkey. In Thailand, Advanced Info Service is leading the way.
The wireless coverage in Thailand is impressive, as use of cell phones is important to high school kids in Bangkok, as well as the farmers and fishermen working in the far southern part of the country. Thais don't want for advanced phones, either; during a kayak trip, a guide played some selections of Thai music from the music collection he had stored in his phone.
Watching your cash
With a market cap of just $6.3 billion, Bangkok Bank is certainly no Citigroup (NYSE: C), but it's a gorilla in Thailand. It's the largest publicly traded bank in the country, as well as the largest Thai commercial bank and one of the largest regional banks in Southeast Asia. Bangkok Bank has been around since 1944 and currently has $43 billion in total assets. And it gives you exposure to more than just the Thai economy, because it also has branches in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, among others.
One can find darn good Chang beer anywhere in the country. Chang is the leading beer brand in Thailand and a product of Thai Beverage -- a company that produces beer, spirits, industrial alcohol, and bottled water.
As great as the Chang beer brand is, ThaiBev's other products are also noteworthy. Ethanol is gaining in Thailand because the government is promoting gasohol -- which is made with ethanol -- as an alternative fuel that could help lessen the country's reliance on crude-oil imports. Additionally, the Chang water brand is everywhere and anywhere in Thailand; tap water in the country is not drinkable.
Maybe you like what you hear, but want to do some firsthand research (which, by the way, is done best on Thailand's beautiful beaches). Unless you're in Laos or Cambodia, the likelihood is that you'll be flying there. And it's equally likely that you'll be headed to one of Thailand's more popular airports, like Suvarnabhumi (in Bangkok) or Phuket airport. Both are operated by Airports of Thailand. As Global Gains pick Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro Norte has shown, operating airports in the right place can be quite a profitable niche.
Mind your comfort zone
The five companies mentioned above are some ideas to kick off further research into Thai businesses. However, at least in the U.S., these stocks are only listed on the Pink Sheets and often go months without a single trade. That fact, combined with having to climb a bit more into the weeds to do research on them, may discourage many investors.
But fear not. As with many other countries around the globe, you can find a host of major global companies taking part in the Thai economy. For instance, even though there's Thai coffee, one can also grab a Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) latte in Bangkok. Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), not surprisingly, is all over the country. And if you've got the urge for a little luxury, you can find labels like Coach (NYSE: COH), Hermes, and Prada in Thailand as well.