Sleepy French, smoking Austrians are sure bets

Sleepy French, smoking Austrians are sure bets
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First Published: Tue, May 12 2009. 09 41 PM IST

Updated: Tue, May 12 2009. 09 41 PM IST
Smart investors know that if you can pick the start of a bull market, you can make a lot of money.
The problem is that these points aren’t easy to identify, so it may be best to choose investments that follow a general pattern based on national habits. Last week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) offered some indirect help by publishing its findings on social trends in the 30-nation grouping. So, what are the big bets for the future that we should be making now? Here are eight to consider:
French coffee producers: The French sleep more than people in any other country, catching nine hours of shut-eye a night on average. In a competitive global economy, France will have to wake up as its working day gets longer and falls into line with the rest of the world. Its people will need some coffee to get them going.
Italian pay-per-view sports broadcasters: If you are going to be a guy, Italy remains the country of choice. Italian men grab 80 minutes more leisure time than Italian women. The reason: men do less housework. If you include the few minutes it takes to stack the refrigerator with beer, you get the duration of a soccer game. Broadcasting AC Milan matches looks like it will be a greatbusiness for a long time to come.
Finnish technology firms: Maybe you think it is just a quirk of fate that Nokia Oyj, Europe’s most successful technology firm, happens to come from one of the region’s smallest countries: Finland. Think again. The Finns are just about the smartest people in the world. Smart people equal smart firms. There will be plenty more Nokias in the decades to come.
British burglar alarms: With the UK economy going down the tube, and with unemployment rising, there isn’t much prospect of a drop in crime. In the UK, 10% of male teenagers aren’t in school, employment or training. One in three girls aged 13-15 said they got drunk regularly, the highest in the world, while the boys were only just behind the Danes when it came to consuming alcohol. Any firm making alarms, locks or closed-circuit TV cameras will have a strong tide of demand to tap into.
US fast-food firms: US President Barack Obama may be trying to revamp the image of Americans in the rest of the world, but there are some things that will never change. Typical Americans remain determined to get as many calories down their throats in the shortest amount of time. They spend 75 minutes a day eating while maintaining the highest obesity rates. There is only one way to keep up that kind of performance: more burgers, pizza and cookie-dough ice cream. The fast-food industry promises a healthy future—for its shareholders.
Portuguese drink firms: Most of us might think of Portugal as a cheerful place with plenty of sunshine, beaches and some great soccer players. Not so. The Portuguese are getting more miserable every year. Everyone knows that miserable people drink more alcohol. Some beer producers should be a good bet.
Austrian cigarette suppliers: The Austrians report the highest rates of teenage smokers in OECD: 24% of 15-year-old Austrian boys and 30% of 15-year-old girls smoke. Since smoking is addictive, and no one takes it up in their 30s, Austrian cigarette suppliers should do well for decades. And so will the pension funds: Not too many Austrians will be drawing payments into their 90s if they are all puffing away in the playground.
Turkish pre-schools: As countries become richer, more women work and the kids get bundled off into childcare. If that holds true, the Turks have a long way to go. Less than 20% of Turkish toddlers aged 3-5 are in childcare, against an average of 73% for OECD as a whole. Korea and Poland also have very low rates. If Turkish, Polish and Korean mothers start going out to work the same way women do in the rest of the developed world, there will have to be a huge expansion in the childcare industry.
These social trends should help put your portfolio in decentshape, as markets fluctuate over the next 20 years.
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First Published: Tue, May 12 2009. 09 41 PM IST