We’ve all heard the term “emerging markets” thrown out before to describe nations that are in a rapid state of growth. Countries like China and India epitomize the very definition of an emerging market, with industrialization picking up and vast infrastructure projects filling in the void to support ongoing economic expansion and provide wealth to a growing middle class.
U.S. businesses have been fighting tooth-and-nail to get their hands into these markets as developed regions like Western Europe and the U.S. struggle under austerity measures designed to reduce government spending. Without emerging markets, there’d likely be little growth at all to report for many U.S. businesses.
But what about countries that are truly in uncharted territory? I’m not talking about China, India, Brazil, or Russia, or any other well-known emerging-market opportunity. Instead, I’m focused solely on countries where little to no U.S. business currently sets up shop because they are, essentially, the most dangerous countries in the world.
The list of countries where U.S. businesses are often frowned upon is actually a lot longer than you think. We may be an economic superpower along with a handful of other nations, but that doesn’t mean we as a nation are well perceived in other countries. Regardless, a select group of U.S. businesses are chancing fate and expanding into these hot spots in the hope of finding the next great emerging market. Obviously, expanding into war-torn regions isn’t without its fair share of risks, but here are five companies willing to take that gamble.
Iraq-U.S. relations have been a hotly contested back-and-forth game for upward of three decades now. After two wars, the last of which led to the ousting of leader Saddam Hussein and the installation of American troops to help oversee the transition to a democratic government, the U.S. is still perceived very poorly by Iraq’s citizens. But soon a common bond may exist between Iraqi and U.S. citizens — a mutual dislike of U.S. banks!
In June, Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) received permission from Iraq’s central bank to open a representative office in Baghdad, the country’s most populous city. Baghdad is also the anointed “most dangerous city in the world” based on violence, according to a 2011 study by research consulting firm Mercer. Despite these concerns, Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) hopes to support its corporate customers in Iraq, help facilitate business loans, and potentially even open self-named branches in the country.
Just two weeks after Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C)’s intentions were made public, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) announced a deal with the Trade Bank of Iraq to facilitate the importation of goods into the country. The big opportunity here is the lifting of UN Chapter 7 sanctions, which will allow $82 billion to rework its way back into the economy. As you can see, it’s also attractive to very large U.S. businesses.
There are still a lot of questions left to be answered here. First, many of Iraq’s financial institutions are state-run, and they may not be so keen to give up their stranglehold on Iraqis’ bank accounts. Also, there’s the American stereotype Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) will need to overcome. Still, this could represent an intriguing opportunity for both banks.
Proclaimed to be the “most dangerous nation [in the world]” in a documentary by Ted Koppel in 2006, Iran is always near the top of the list of countries we as a nation have the most strife with — and ironically, it’s also Iraq’s neighbor. Specifically, fears of Iran’s nuclear capabilities echo strongly with many developed nations and throw up countless caution flags about dealing with the country on a business level.