South Africa is a powerhouse compared with some of the more troubled European economies like Italy, which is only projected to grow GDP by only 0.9% a year through 2020.
Although South Africa has long been known for the mining of diamonds, gold and other precious stones, minerals and metals, mining has actually become a progressively smaller portion of the South African economy. And for investors worried about these sometimes-volatile markets, that's a good thing. Mining now accounts for only around 3% of GDP, compared with about 14% during the peak years of the 1980s. Even so, South Africa's mining industry is the world's fifth-largest, behind China, the United States, Australia and Brazil.
Nowadays, agriculture is almost as important to South Africa as mining, accounting
for 2.6% of GDP. In fact, South Africa has become a net exporter
of agricultural products such as sugar, grapes, citrus fruits, nectarines and wine. South Africa continues to be a popular tourist destination because of its wildlife preserves and diverse culture, and tourism is estimated to account for as much as 3% of GDP.
As you might expect, manufacturing is becoming progressively more important and now generates about 15% of GDP. Auto production, the biggest area of manufacturing, accounts for nearly 8% of GDP. South Africa also has growing telecommunications, banking, e-commerce and retail industries. As a group, South African companies should grow earnings
by 16% in 2012, compared with an 11.5% increase for emerging markets overall, analysts estimate.
Another reason to put South Africa at the top of your list of emerging markets to consider: Its economy could be a better defensive play than other emerging economies. This is because corporate earnings are mainly generated domestically, while other emerging markets tend to get their earnings from foreign sources. Plus, the financial system is one of the most efficient and well-regulated in the world, and debt only makes up about a third of GDP (compared with more than 100% of GDP in the United States). Thus, South Africa's economy is better insulated from shocks to the global economy, making it one of the less risky emerging markets in which you can invest.
Risks to Consider: Although South Africa may be relatively less risky, it's still an emerging market and its stock market can be very volatile.