E Exotic Markets

Last week Czech antivirus software group Avast came to market and had a rough time, in part because its own site was hacked last week, which rather hurts its credibility. Avast says that the attempt to blackmail those who downloaded the popular free version into paying for its services to get rid of blockages installed to “protect” users' computers was not its own doing.

Its IPO in London came out below the bottom price in the offering roadshow and then fell some more. It is a rival of unlisted McAfee and listed Symantec which has c-suite problems that delayed its annual report. I planned to write Avast up for my subscribers but just to be sure downloaded the software and found my laptop being held for ransom. I dropped the Avast stock pick after license 5JQJQN-RNEYSJ-42Y7CT turned out to be a trick to make me pay. I also removed it from the laptop.

In theory, we like exotic stocks like Czech ones, because they have growth levels unreachable in most developed stock markets where hundreds of analysts are looking for performance. You can achieve smashing growth and high returns if you get the right ones.

There are political risks, notably in China and Russia, but also in other countries that have over-borrowed like Argentina, or ones where investor protection is lacking and auditors just rubber stamp what companies want to tell their shareholders. The latest case is that of RenRen which we used to own, plotting to sell its assets to its CEO and Softbank of Japan

We ran into Russki political risks when Oleg the Oligarch (Deripaska) was barred from US companies and we had to sell our MMC Norilsk Nickel in a hurry, losing only a tiny part of our basis. Last week we had a very belated disclosure to the US SEC of the hidden Allende-Pinochet-era owners of another NYSE-listed stock we own. We are not exiting that one because Chile has been operating in global financial markets in the interval since then. And Chile has first world-class autiditors and disclosure most of the time. But it was a close call. Even Big Board foreign listers may fail to protect investors from secret owners whose holdings have not been revealed.

The risk with emerging markets stocks, apart from dictators' sons-in-law, includes families in control of listed companies via special stock classes or offshore entities.

So add that to the potential damage from excess debt, especially in dollars where interest rates are rising. Interest rates at 40% hit Argentina hard but we got out of the exchange-traded country fund in good time. We exited early as I visited Argentina during its last financial crisis after its last IMF bailout.

While Argentina has oil, the spiraling fuel price of the for countries which must import it is another warning indicator. This applies to another market darling, India, which depends on imports of many raw materials. And unlike China, its chief doesn't have good relations with Pres. Trump like China does. I cannot imagine PR Narendra Modi phoning the White House with a request that Trump calls off enforcement of a serious violation of US export regulations and getting his way, as Xi Jinping did for ZTE, the Chinese phone company, which by the way reported yesterday. ZTE faced closure after being barred from buying US components it needs for its cell phones for 7 years over sanction-busting sales to Iran and North Korea which the company says were made “in error.”Mr. Trump whose bark is worse than his bite gave way.

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