Author Christopher Mayer Advises Investors to Look at Mongolia and Columbia

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Christopher Mayer has been writing the Capital & Crisis newsletter since 2004, and in that time he has travelled the globe looking at emerging markets for investment opportunities. Mayer has the ability to see ideas where others might not, to put aside preconceived notions and popular ideas. Much of this information can be found in his new book, World Right Side Up , which is available now through Agora Financial. Mayer spoke to Benzinga to tell us all about it.

First of all, could you give us a little background on you?
I started out in commercial banking. I was a corporate loan officer. I started at Riggs National Bank, and I had a ten year career in corporate banking before I started writing newsletters. It was great training, because I got to look at a lot of different industries and a lot of different companies. I really liked doing that, but I also had a passion for investing and for writing, and so I freelanced for a while. In 2004, I started writing my own newsletter called Capital & Crisis . I sent that out to everyone I could think of, as well as money managers and other bankers and people on the business. It eventually grew and I got the attention of Agora Financial in Baltimore and made a deal with them. I was able to take what was a nights and weekends hobby and turn it into a full time gig. I've been writing Capital & Crisis since 2004, and what it really it is a globetrotting financial newsletter. I look all over the world for deals and trends, and try to advise my readers of the best way to play those different ideas. I've accumulated a lot of travel miles since that time, visiting a lot of different countries, and I thought that there was a certain trend that started to fall into place, and I thought that would be a great idea for a book. That's how this book came about - putting together a lot of the research that I'd done for my newsletter, a lot of travel over the last eight years or so.

Who is the book aimed at?
I would say it's aimed at the general investing public, anyone who is trying to figure out what to do with their money and where to invest it over the long haul, and is interested in exploring some out of the mainstream ideas. In this book, I take you beyond markets in the U.S. and Canada and look at a diverse set of markets. In the course of that exploration I really uncover some fantastic ideas for investors. It's aimed at the investor, but I also think that anyone who is really interested in the larger changes that have gone on in the world over the last decade will be interested in reading the book. We've really witnessed some profound, remarkable changes to the global economy over the past ten years. I think it's a really exciting story.

It looks like it was a blast to research…
I had a blast putting it together. I've had a great run over the last eight years. I've really enjoyed travelling the different markets, and I've met some extraordinary characters. It's one of the things I love about my job - I'll get up in the morning and sometimes I'll have an email from Bangkok that came in overnight, or Dubai, and it gives you a fascinating window into what's going on in the world.

Which countries / markets surprised you the most?
Most people, when they think about investing in emerging markets or when they think about markets outside of the U.S. at all, they probably think first of the so called BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India and China. I would say that most of the more remarkable markets I've found were not in that category. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw and experienced while in Cambodia. I recall some very pleasant nights at their riverside restaurants and seeing a young population and nightlife there, and consumers shopping and wearing American brands of things. That was surprising. I was pleased by what I found in Columbia, how developed and safe that had become. As someone who had grown up in the '80s, back then Medellin was Pablo Escobar's hometown, and now you can go there and it's a perfectly safe place, and again fairly developed. People generally think of Dubai as being a flash in the pan, but I think it has some long term advantages. It is a place that's very friendly towards money, so it's become kind of the Switzerland of the Middle East. It's their Singapore or Hong Kong - it's a place where the wealthy people in the Middle East go to put their money. Not only that, it's attracted capital from all over the world. For that reason, I think it has staying power. It did have a huge real estate bubble, and then bust on the other side of that, but I think they will have an advantage as the trading hub for the Middle East. Dubai will be ok. Another market that I really like now is Mongolia, which is a market that certainly is on no one's radar, but is really coming on fast and growing 50% this year. There's a lot to look at there. I'm going back in June, so I look forward to that trip. In general, I think that my trip has made certain markets more appealing than others. I would prefer Columbia over Brazil. I would prefer Cambodia over India, and I would prefer Mongolia over China. Exploring these different markets, you find some markets that are not so much in the limelight that are appealing.

One of the one that is much less appealing is Brazil. Brazil is a market that I think a lot of investors generally have a favorable opinion of as a place that will bloom and continue to bloom, but a lot of investors don't appreciate how difficult it is to do business in Brazil. You can look at the "ease of doing business" rankings compiled by the World Bank every year, and Brazil scores very low. It's easier to do business in Rwanda or Pakistan according to those rankings. The Brazil tax structure is very unfavorable - it's one of the highest in the emerging world. They've already got a very large welfare state they are trying to support that is more comparable to what you'd find in France or Norway. There are a lot of those kind of overhangs that make Brazil challenging. That's not to say that, over the long haul, there won't be interesting ideas from there, but that was one market that surprised me because it wasn't what I expected it to be, in a bad way.

Is there anywhere you wanted to go, or would want to go to now, but didn't?
I always wanted to explore a little more of Africa. I've successfully invested in some African ventures. Mozambique in particular is one that interests me. They have some very large coal deposits opening up, and I just never got around to going there. Another area I'd be interested in exploring is Eastern Europe. Some of these places like Georgia, the Ukraine, those kind of places I'd love to explore but I have yet to be.

How hard is it to go to these places and keep your investing head on, to avoid slipping into tourist mode?
For me, I seem to be hardwired. Even when I'm on vacation, I always have my investment antenna alert. I always seem to pick up something. It's amazing what you can learn just by talking to regular people that you meet along the way, either in restaurants or in your hotel, or taxis on the way. Just asking people in general how things are. It's not hard because I love doing it. I don't feel any particular pressure to recommend anything. I was in Chile, for example, and it's a great country in a lot of respects but I didn't necessarily come away with a grand new recommendation. I did come away with some interesting contacts and some experiences which I'm sure I'll use at some point. When you're traveling around, don't feel like, because you're visiting a country, you have to pull the trigger and invest in something right away. Some of this is just accumulating intelligence that you can use down the road, getting contacts and things like that.

Finally, where do you vacation?
I love going to Nicaragua. I wrote about that a little bit in the book. It's got beautiful Pacific beaches, the food there is cheap, good and fresh, the people there are very friendly, and it's a pretty country. The last couple of years, my family and I have gone down there. One of the nice things about travelling to South and Central America is it's not that far. It's a whole different thing when you're going to Asia with the 12 hour time difference.

Follow me @BCallwood .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: Investing , Economy

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