With a 95% share of beer sales in Egypt, a company called Al Ahram has pretty much cornered the market.
That fact, combined with the brewer's 25% annual growth rate, explains why Scudder Kemper Investments' two emerging markets growth funds have a stake in the business.
It's not just the beer that has captured fund manager Joyce Cornell's attention; she sees the Arab-speaking world as a hotbed of investment opportunity.
From Morocco to Bahrain, Ms. Cornell has invested more than one-fifth of the $200 million in mutual fund and $1 billion of institutional assets that she manages in Arab nations. But despite booming companies like Al Ahram, most investors have ignored the region.
"It's just not on people's radar screen," she said. "That's what I find curious. I predict it will change."
Money managers may avoid Arab countries because they see them as politically volatile and saddled with backward markets. But Ms. Cornell sees a geographic sector where businesses are increasingly being privatized, productivity is on the rise, and stocks are cheap.
It's true that the Middle East has a history of wars, terrorism, and political instability. But no place is perfect, Ms. Cornell said. "I haven't found such a thing as a risk-free market in my life anywhere."
And the region's stock markets are rapidly joining the modern age. In Oman, for example, strong disclosure rules have emerged for publicly traded companies, and paperless trades have become a reality in the last five years. But even though Oman's market rose 115% last year-the best performance in the world-"people don't even know they exist," Ms. Cornell said.
Ms. Cornell also has money in manufacturing, food processing, financial services, and elsewhere.
Ms. Cornell's results have not exactly been stellar-her $180 million Scudder Emerging Markets Growth Fund (newly formed Kemper Emerging Markets Growth Fund is a clone) was down 21% for the 12 months ended June 30. But it was a standout in its category, which was down more than 40% over the same period, according to Morningstar, the fund rating agency. The fund's performance over the year puts it in the top 11% of diversified emerging market funds, Morningstar said.
Emerging market funds have been hurt by Asia's troubles, but Ms. Cornell said she cushioned the blow to her funds by paring back Asian holdings early on.
Those with strong stomachs may be rewarded for retaining stakes in emerging markets, said Geoffrey Bobroff, a mutual fund consultant in East Greenwich, R.I. "Those markets will be a spot for rewards long-term," he said. "But one has to have the ability to put it in the safe deposit box and not worry about it until five or 10 years from now."
J.P. Morgan & Co. has launched a Web site for brokers and investors in foreign companies whose shares are traded on U.S. exchanges in the form of American depositary receipts. The site, www.adr.com, offers analysis, research, news, quotes, and pricing history on more than 400 companies.
Morgan said it launched the site amid growing demand for international equity information. The ADR market has doubled in the past two years and now accounts for 10% of total U.S. trading volume, it said.
Morgan is one of a handful of big U.S. banks that act as depositaries for shares of foreign companies. Others include Citicorp, Bankers Trust Corp., and Bank of New York Co. Bank of New York has an ADR area on its corporate Web site, www.bankofny.com.