Donald Trump wants to change the world. For investors, he already has.
Just look at the value of the Russian and Mexican stock markets since he was elected on Nov. 8, 2016. Their wildly divergent paths demonstrate how the Twitterer-in-chief has taken a hammer to global expectations – and that's even before his official inauguration on Friday.
Mexico, the target of much of Mr. Trump's bombast, has watched its equities shrivel in U.S. dollar terms as investors contemplate the fresh havoc that a border wall and new tariff barriers could wreak.
Meanwhile, Russian stock values have surged as punters bet that the bromance between Vladimir Putin and The Donald will bring about an easing of sanctions against Moscow.
It's easy to deplore these trends. However, a more profitable path might be to invest in them. Whether you love Mr. Trump or loathe him, both countries now look like interesting speculations for adventurous investors.
The case for putting money into Mexico is all about the peso's plunge to record lows. The falling currency has pushed Mexican stocks firmly into bargain territory – probably further than is strictly justified by the facts.
Measured in greenbacks, Mexican stocks have lost nearly half their value since 2013. Yet measured in pesos, Mexico's economy has actually grown over the past three years.
To be sure, the country continues to suffer from horrific levels of drug-related violence and corruption. But none of that is new. In the absence of Trumponomics, Mexico would appear to be slowly getting its act together.
A series of reforms has helped boost its productivity since 2012, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which praises the country's evolution into an international trade hub.
The country's most pressing problem right now is that $8 out of every $10 in Mexican exports go to the United States. As a result, Mr. Trump's demand for a revised trade deal threatens to kneecap the country's recent economic progress.
That sounds bad, and so it is. But investors should ponder whether a renegotiated deal necessarily means disaster for Mexico. In this game of poker, Mr. Trump's favourite patsy has some cards of its own to play.
For starters, it can point out what would happen in the event of economic collapse. A bad recession in Mexico would spur hundreds of thousands of displaced workers to cross the border – wall or not – and look for jobs in the United States. That, presumably, is not what Trump supporters desire.
Then there would be the potential impact of a trade war on U.S. exporters. More than $230-billion (U.S.) of American machinery, farm products and other goods flood into Mexico every year. If Mexico were to threaten to slap retaliatory tariffs on selected items, it could probably marshal a surprising amount of U.S. support for its cause.
Finally, of course, there's the simple fact that the stratospheric tariffs promised by Mr. Trump are economic poison. One study, conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, concludes that if the new president were to go ahead with his vow to slap a 45-per-cent tariff on Chinese exports and a 35-per-cent levy on Mexican goods, the result would be a U.S. recession and the loss of more than four million American jobs.
Given all that, negotiators may arrive at a revised deal that is less punishing for Mexico than many dread. If so, a modest bet on a diversified basket of Mexican stocks makes sense.
The iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF offers one low-cost way to buy a broad cross section of Mexican companies, ranging from cellular operators to soft-drink distributors. If the peso bounces back, it should do quite well.
Some of the same logic applies to Russia. (Full disclosure: I own a Russian stock ETF.) The ruble appears cheap on many measures. Unlike Mexico, however, stocks are also dirt cheap in terms of their earnings.
One way to measure that cheapness is by using the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio, which compares today's stock prices to their underlying earnings over the past decade. Russian stocks have a CAPE well below 10, as compared to more than 26 for U.S. shares.
Of course, caveats abound: Russia's economy hinges on oil, corporate governance is a joke and the political climate is treacherous.
Still, cheap stocks have a way of producing good returns over the long haul. A diversified bet on the Russian economy, through any of several ETFs, offers intriguing potential. If you're searching for a way to make Trumponomics a little more palatable, the notion is worth a closer look.