This Bank is the Perfect Way to Profit from Increasing Trade in Emerging Markets

Despite the recent financial crisis, worldwide industrialization is increasing at a never before seen pace. Asia and Latin America are the fastest growing regions of the world, led by China and Brazil.

These two hyper-growth regions make perfect trading partners. China doesn’t have enough raw materials to power its ever-growing industry and Latin America has an abundance of raw materials. The growth megatrends in the two regions are combining to create a juggernaut of world trade.

In fact, bilateral trade between Brazil and China has increased 12-fold since 2001. The $36 billion in trade between the two nations in 2009 represented a +780% increase from 2003. China recently became Brazil’s largest trading partner, replacing the United States, which had been the largest for more than 70 years.

The furious trade pace should continue as Brazil’s economy is forecast to grow +5.5% for the next several years, while China’s GDP growth is predicted to be +9.7% this year and +8.6% in 2011. In addition, India offers huge growth prospects, as the country of 1.1 billion people only accounted for 0.8% of Latin American trade in 2008, compared to 7.7% for China.

I think I’ve found the perfect way for investors to profit Latin American growth and escalating trade among the most prominent emerging markets.

Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A (NYSE: BLX), called Bladex or the Foreign Trade Bank of Latin America, is a Panama-based supranational bank that provides short-term loans and letters of credit to importers and exporters throughout Latin America. In short, the bank collects fees and makes money off the trading activity of Latin American corporations and countries. The bank currently serves 161 clients in 23 countries throughout the region.

This bank stayed away from the aggressive lending policies and subprime contagion that debilitated so many Western banks. As a result, Bladex is in solid financial shape, with investment grade credit ratings from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s and is grabbing market share from wounded multinational banks. The bank also pays a solid 4.1% yield, much higher than the 2.9% average for foreign money center banks.

Earnings did take a hit during the financial crisis and ensuing recession. Profits fell -24% from 2007 levels in both 2008 and 2009 (net income of $72 million in 2007 fell to $55 million in 2008 and 2009). But, the bank still remained highly profitable through the worst of the crisis and business is bouncing back.

Net income of $15 million for the third quarter and $27 million for the first nine months of the year was -13% and -37% lower than the respective year ago periods. The lower results were primarily caused by trading losses and a tough year-over-year comparison to capital gains in the bank’s Treasury and Asset Management divisions. However, the Commercial division, which accounted for 93% of third quarter profits, is beginning to boom again.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecasts that the region’s exports will grow by +21.4% this year, after dropping by -22.6% in 2009. As trade flow in the region continues to recover, Bladex’s commercial portfolio of loans has increased +44% from a year ago to $1.3 billion. Analyst have taken notice of this growth in the bank’s most profitable segment, and consensus analysts’ estimates are predicting earnings growth of +56% in 2011.

Action to Take –> As a bank with strong growth prospects and a high dividend, Bladex is a throwback to better days. Although such criteria are rare and coveted, the stock is still cheap, selling at less than book value, compared to an industry average of nearly three times book value.

The cheap valuation combined with the high dividend and strong growth prospects from undeniable megatrends make Bladex a well kept secret. The stock is a great buy below $18.