Investors have many tools at their disposal to overcome obstacles when they explore new and emerging markets. One factor beyond their control, though, is the political environment. Thus when investors search for new markets, they often skip over countries and regions that have even a hint of political unrest.
While this seems generally a prudent course, not all political and economic transitions lead to chaos or war. Some countries learn from their growing pains. They can develop stable democracies with thriving economies that harbor investment opportunities, including those for futures markets.
Of course, there are hotspots where political unrest has seemed to eclipse potential or even established trading opportunities. But, when a country passes the “healthy skepticism” test, is it time to consider them?
Take, for instance, South Africa and Indonesia, which are examples of where opportunities can flourish after major periods of political unrest.
While the politics of South Africa are evolving, so is its economy. Foreign investment has grown substantially in part because of the good business infrastructure, which includes the futures markets.
In 2001, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) acquired the South African Futures Exchange (Safex), which resulted in a hub for equities and derivatives trading. (The JSE retained the Safex branding for the commodity and equity derivatives markets.) The commodities market provides price discovery and risk management for grains, precious metals and crude oil markets. The financial derivatives market offers a platform for trading futures and options.
Since the merger, the JSE has taken many steps to open itself up to international trading such as adopting the FIX electronic protocol for trading and working with third-party suppliers of hosted market connectivity. The JSE offers electronic trading, clearing and settlement in equities, financial and agricultural derivatives and other associated instruments.
Another former hotspot is Indonesia, which has youthful demographics, sustainable domestic consumption, and an $813 billion economy that is expected to expand by approximately 6% this year—roughly the same rate as 2011. For futures, there are two trading venues —the Jakarta Futures Exchange (JFE) and the Indonesia Commodity and Derivatives Exchange (ICDX), which serve as the trading venues for indigenous commodities. The JFE and ICDX are aggressive competitors, particularly in the gold and crude palm oil markets. The ICDX is also a trading venue for coal, natural gas, cocoa, coffee and tin. The JFE and ICDX support electronic trading and a variety of market connectivity options that provide widespread access for overseas investors.
While no indexes exist to help measure and predict political unrest, it is clear that major shocks to the political system will reverberate through the economy, including the futures markets. Some turmoil may even halt trading on the major exchanges.
Yet some of today’s hotspots could eventually become attractive investment opportunities once the political factors have settled into somewhat predictable patterns. When once tumultuous countries and regions stabilize, they are likely to need more foreign investors and, as long as there are opportunities, investors will oblige.
To make the most of those opportunities, investors will need good partnerships with stable trading and investment management firms on the ground. They will also need IT providers that know the region and have established inroads into the country’s current networking and IT infrastructure.