Investing in one of the best-performing stock markets
A fund centered on Iranian equities may seem frivolous to some. Who wants to invest in a country that has been devastated by sanctions for decades and cut off from the rest of the global?
Maciej Wojtal, Founder and CIO of Amtelon Capital, an investment fund devoted to Iranian equities, has identified a diversified economy in Iran despite an economy near collapse and geopolitical risks.
“You have this big country, almost 84 million people, where the demographic structure is beautiful. Median age, 30 years,” he tells Real Vision CEO Raoul Pal. “You have probably 25 million people employed, two and a half million unemployed, a couple of million students, and then kids up to 18 years old are another 25 million. This will become the next wave of employment coming into the market over the next 20 years.”
His interest in Iran was the nuclear deal brokered by President Obama in 2015 where he found a stock market that had been operating for more than two decades.
“It does not happen too often that you go to a new country that is opening up, and there is something to do for you as a portfolio investor, Wojtal admits. “Normally, you can go and build a factory, maybe like launch a startup. Here, you had 600 companies listed. Daily liquidity of around $100 million at that time, and the lowest valuations in the world, and I mean five times earnings, maybe four times earnings, no debt, no one has any debt.”
Wojtal’s fund gives Western investors access to fast-growing businesses with low valuations in an array of industries, from utilities and automotive to commodities and agriculture.
“I knew that they had the biggest combined oil and gas reserves in the world, but that was only 15% of GDP, he says. “It is not your typical frontier market that when it opens up, they are going to start producing textile. No, they produce million cars per year. They have advanced manufacturing of many different products.”
Despite an overall economy that has been rapidly contracting because of U.S. sanctions and weak oil prices, Iran has one of the best-performing stock markets. Iran’s stock market is dominated by retail investors with foreign making up less than half a percent of the market cap.
Wojtal looks at his investments in Iran as very long term. “This is not a trade. This is a thing for the next decade,” he says.
He has been able to find companies that have pure export exposure in the region and not affected by sanctions. He admits “some of them were hit by sanctions, but not all of them.”
Wojtal is hopeful the blue wave in the U.S. under the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress will open up the economy in Iran again.
“we know the rhetoric of Trump, very aggressive, like people are almost expecting a war every week. Now, we imagine Biden going out smiling, saying, look, if we play this right, we may have a deal at some point down the line. I think this would be a huge change that would bring back the optimism and the faith that things could improve.”
He notes Iran is a “complicated situation” given the upcoming election after the current President Hassan Rouhani finishes his two terms.
“It will be interesting to see if they try to make something happen prior to the Iranian election, but probably not a new deal. Because I would expect the US to want to secure something strong and long term, so we need to have a new government in place,” he says. “They may try actually to perhaps influence the election somehow to maybe tilt it more towards the reformist types who would want to have a deal.”
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