“This give you strong sex,” said the grinning vendor with just two front teeth. He held up a large jar. A coiled snake was in it. I picked up the jar and wondered. Singapore isn’t just a modern city-state. It’s a futuristic image of what the world might become. So it’s strange that in some colorful corners of this Jetsons-like city, pickled snakes might top Viagra. This was one of my first impressions of Singapore when I moved there in 2003.
After saying, “No, but thank you,” to bottled snakes and scorpions, I looked at Singapore’s stock market index. Historical GDP growth was huge. According to the World Bank Data, its GDP averaged 6.67 percent per year between 1988 and 2008. The U.S., by comparison, averaged 2.77 percent. Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. It jumped from third world to first world in a single generation.
Still, during the 11 years I lived there, I would have downed a vial of snake venom before investing in a Singapore stock market index. The average PE ratio was far too high. But I returned to Singapore last week. Now I have a different view.
The United Airline’s Airbus 319 banked to align with the upcoming runway. Lights from thousands of cargo ships lit up the Strait of Malacca below. I was flying over the world’s second biggest port, measured by shipping tonnage.
Shortly after touchdown, I disembarked at Singapore’s Changi International Airport. World Airlines Awards rates it the best airport in the world. It’s tough to argue. We cleared immigration, picked up our luggage. Just 20 minutes after touching down, we were speeding towards the city in a taxi.
Along the freeway, the outrageous number of high-end cars reminded me of the country’s wealth. In 2003, when I first moved to Singapore, Toyotas were the top selling cars. Today, Mercedes Benz’s aren’t just luxuries for the elite. They’re the country’s best selling brand. The lowest price model costs $100,000 USD. A Mercedes Benz AMG-GT costs $500,000 USD. The price includes a Certificate of Entitlement. It’s a hefty purchasing fee that slaps all vehicle owners.
The International Business Times says that 10 percent of Singapore’s population is made up of millionaires. Only Qatar and Switzerland have more millionaires per capita. The government is also flush with cash. Singapore’s Ministry of Finance says, “The Singapore Government is one of the few remaining triple-A credit-rated governments in the world.” Per capita, no other foreign country holds more money in U.S. bonds.
Populated by just 5.6 million people, Singapore ranks number 12 among the biggest government holders of U.S. Treasuries. Only eight other countries trade more with China.
But let’s get back to investing. For the first time in years, Singapore’s stock market index is selling at a bargain. The iShares MSCI Singapore Index ETF holds 28 stocks. They make up 85 percent of the market’s capitalization. The trailing PE ratio is just 12.36 time earnings, compared to the S&P 500, which trades at 19.99.
Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE) compares stock prices with ten years of real earnings. Historically, Singapore’s stocks are more expensive than U.S. stocks. But those roles have reversed.
The Wall Street Journal’s Liam Plevin reports that Singapore’s CAPE ratio is just 16.2. That’s well below its historical average of 21.6. Shiller has found that when stocks trade well below their historical averages, stocks rise strongly for the decade ahead. U.S. stocks, based on the same measurement, trade at 27 times earnings. That means they’re priced well above their historical average.
If you do buy Singapore’s stock market index, remember to diversify. Singapore’s stocks are cheap. But a simple portfolio made up of a U.S. stock index, an international stock index and a bond index would be tough to beat over time. If you enjoy rolling the dice, set aside 10 percent of your portfolio for individual stocks and specialized funds. Then consider Singapore’s stock market index. Investing, if you’re doing it right, shouldn’t be exciting. Leave the excitement to snakes in jars.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.