Cambodia is among the world’s fastest growing countries. It’s also one of the most accessible frontier markets to foreign investors.
Generally unexplored, and certainly undervalued, multinational firms including Samsung and Nike and have just recently started investing in Cambodia themselves.
Likewise, foreign investors are entering Cambodia’s property market where city-center apartments in the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh are sometimes priced at only US$1,000 per square meter. Foreigners can own real estate in Cambodia on a freehold basis.
Many international investors are buying stocks and property in more prominent destinations such as Thailand, thinking they’ve successfully diversified abroad. These people are missing better opportunities right next door in Cambodia though.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy Thailand and spend a decent part of my time there every year. But their annual GDP growth rate is among Southeast Asia’s weakest.
We’re talking about a pace barely higher than in the United States… and slower than Malaysia, its slightly-more-developed neighbor.
Thailand’s economy depends heavily on foreign capital, whether through tourism or FDI. People often might assume that an emerging Asian market would be resilient to a financial crisis originating in Europe or the Americas. Yet that would be incorrect.
As a comparison, Cambodia is growing by over 7% annually. While almost every other country is normally revising their GDP projections downward, Cambodia raises it upwards and exceeds already high expectations.
Cambodia’s History of Recession Avoidance
Cambodia is less correlated with western economies because it’s a frontier market. And diversification is crucial for wealth preservation.
That’s why I recommend investing in Cambodia. It skipped the Asian Financial Crisis during the 1990s, missed the tech bubble of the early 2000s, and outgrew the recession in 2008. In fact, it hasn’t faced a recession for nearly three decades.
Because of its status as a frontier market, Cambodia isn’t anywhere near as dependent on foreign capital or investment from abroad. Natural growth drivers like urbanization and formation of new industries are more important.
They’re not reliant on McDonald’s offshore expansion, or any other large multinational, to maintain continuous growth because such companies aren’t even doing business in Cambodia yet.
Of course, they’ll almost inevitably decide to expand into Cambodia one day, like competitors Yum! Brands, Carl’s Jr., Krispy Kreme, and Domino’s Pizza all already have. This will lead to further economic growth in Cambodia over the long term.
A chart showing Cambodia’s GDP growth since 1996 compared to the United States and United Kingdom. You don’t need to be good with charts to see that Cambodia’s economic outperformance is clear.
Furthermore, Cambodia enjoys a source of growth that few other frontier markets do: tourism. money. Millions of tourists visit Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious structure, every single year. This number is expected to grow exponentially.
Different frontier markets in Southeast Asia like Papua New Guinea or Myanmar don’t have this luxury.
Frontier markets can grow rapidly but need catalysts to propel their growth in the first place, whether it’s tourism or oil exports.
Cambodia is rather fortunate in this regard. They have visitors, investors, and strong demographics to help fuel a sustained economic boom.
How to Invest in Cambodia: Buy Property or Stocks?
You hopefully understand why I suggest Cambodia. Now it’s time to learn different ways you’re able to invest here as a foreigner.
Cambodia just barely has a stock market. In fact, there are exactly seven companies listed on its stock exchange right now.
Many of them are quasi-public corporations such as the local water utility provider and port operator. There are also banks, property developers, and other companies though.
Real estate in Cambodia is a better bet – if you know what you’re doing. Most of the new condo projects are overpriced, yet shophouse apartments are incredible deals in certain areas.
Phnom Penh is also one of few capital cities in the world where you can purchase property for below US$1,000 per square meter. My strong belief is that property values in Cambodia will only increase from here.
Just be careful if you’re buying frontier market real estate though. Because it’s often challenging and labor intensive.
Between doing local market analysis in Khmer language, navigating through an unfamiliar legal system and finding reliable contractors, things aren’t always easy here. You should live in Cambodia, at the very minimum, if you want to buy and maintain your own property here.
Cambodia has opportunities in private equity and venture capital as well. However, getting into that is arguably even harder than buying real estate. You must commit to plenty of due diligence and research in a foreign market.
Investing in Cambodia (or any frontier market for that matter) is difficult. Nonetheless, barriers to entry are sometimes a good thing if you’re willing to break them down.
Entry barriers can help keep asset valuations fair, at least for a time, thus making it possible to invest in “under the radar” frontier markets in the first place.
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