Markets

Buy This Emerging Market Leader For Growth And Income

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Recently, I was listening to a podcast interview with market guru Byron Wien of Blackstone. While the talk focused mainly on building wealth with large, concentrated bets, the winning combination of investing in technology and emerging markets caught my attention.

Technology changes worlds and history and, if you choose wisely, makes investors rich. The same can be said for macro market and demographic trends. The world changed as wireless telecom penetrated emerging and frontier markets. People who had never had a telephone due to lack of infrastructure in their communities were now connected. While wireless phone proliferation in these economies has exploded over the last decade, there's still room to grow.

Now, as the same emerging societies give birth to a new middle class thanks to a globalized economy, banking is emerging as the next growth industry in developing markets.

I've found a stock that covers both: Vodafone (Nasdaq: VOD ) .

The leading provider of international wireless telecommunications, Vodafone's footprint covers more than 20 countries across four continents. If you're a Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) subscriber, you used to do business with Vodafone. Up until 2014, Vodafone owned a 45% stake in Verizon. After selling back to Verizon, Vodafone walked away with $130 billion. Not a bad trade.

The divesture allowed Vodafone to focus on its core business in Western Europe and emerging markets in Africa, Middle East, and Asia Pacific (AMAP). And while revenues are not the greatest in developed Europe, down 0.6% for fiscal year 2016 (an improvement from 2015's slide of 4.7%), frontier markets are totally different story.

Revenues in Vodafone's AMAP markets are growing at a solid 19% rate. One of the more interesting drivers of this portion of the business is M-Pesa; the company's mobile phone based payment system.

Combining the "M" for "mobile" and "pesa" which is the Swahili word for money, M-Pesa was launched in 2007 by Vodafone subsidiary Safaricom in Kenya and Tanzania and has since spread to Mozambique, South Africa, Egypt, Afghanistan, India and Eastern Europe. The service allows users to deposit, withdraw, transfer money and pay for goods and services via their mobile device. By 2010, it had become the most successful mobile phone based financial service in the developing world.

Some of the numbers generated by M-Pesa are nothing short of mindboggling. In 2013, it's estimated that 43% of Kenya's GDP flowed through M-Pesa with over 237 million person to person transactions and 17 million registered accounts. This is just one country.

Just like wireless phones connected hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets like never before, the same communications platform is giving millions upon millions of people access to a formal financial system.

Currently, about 70% of Vodafone's revenue comes from Europe. The remainder comes from emerging markets. In addition to wireless telecom and mobile payments, the company has large holdings in media content and delivery. The most recent development is the company's joint venture with Sky Television Networks New Zealand to create a fully integrated telecom and media company in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Vodafone is improving its infrastructure in core European markets in order to remain competitive in the wireless business.

From a balance sheet perspective, the company is rock solid with over $190 billion in cash and assets on the books. Vodafone's long term debt to capitalization sits at 29%, which is extremely comfortable for a large telecom company.

Risks To Consider: One of the biggest risks facing Vodafone is continued weakness in Europe. With the continent representing 70% of the company's revenue stream, continued economic malaise and political instability could have a huge impact on the company's fortunes. However, the stock's attractive dividend yield and Vodafone's solid balance sheet should provide a buffer for that risk.

Action To Take: Vodafone provides two vital, life changing services to emerging market consumers: communication and basic banking. These two products form the foundation for the potentially decades long growth of the emerging market middle class. That story combined with the company's strong balance sheet and wide market reach make VOD a core growth and income holding. Shares currently trade around $30 with a 5.2% dividend yield. The emerging market story, especially the contribution from M-Pesa will take many years to play out. However, the company is capable of growing its yield in order to compensate shareholders while that path unfolds.

Editor's Note: Vodafone has been a game changer for the developing world, but there are plenty of companies changing the game here at home. From an obscure new medical treatment that could save millions to a surprising new wearable technology that could outsell Apple 3-to-1 -- we've found the 10 most shockingly profitable investment opportunities for 2016 . To find out which little-known stocks will be the beneficiaries of these historic changes, click here now .

Disclosure: Adam Fischbaum holds VOD in family and client managed accounts.

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

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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.