Tiger Cub Economies

By Reviewed by James Chen

Tiger Cub Economies refer to developing countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The term cub indicates each country is still in the early stages of development. After years of growth and maturation, the hope is to evolve into a tiger economy like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The original Four Asian Tigers experienced substantial economic growth between 1950 and 1990 from a huge push by the government and corporate sector to promote industrialization. Today, the cub economies are following a similar path. They adopted similar export-driven models that stress the importance of technology to achieve similar results as the older Tigers. 

The Tiger Cub Economies are all different in nature. Some are larger and further along in the development process, whereas others have just begun. Indonesia is the largest of the tiger cub economies with a population of more than 261 million as of 2016. This makes it the fourth largest country in terms of population, behind China, India, and the United States.

In terms of GDP, though, Indonesia ranks in the top 20 of the world's largest economies. The largest tiger cub boasts a gross domestic product just north of $1 trillion as of last year. On a per capita basis, Indonesia recently exceeded $3,500 USD in 2016. This per capita figure pales compared with other cubs like Thailand and Malaysia. The two countries recorded GDP per capita north of $5,000 USD in 2016, with Malaysia a little under $10,000 USD. 

In many ways, the tiger cub economies are an attractive destination for continued foreign direct investment. They exhibit the qualities necessary for maximizing external investments. This includes large and growing domestic markets, infrastructure improvements, developing investment conditions, sound economic management, and available low-cost labor. Some experts claim less-developed cub economies will surpass the larger tiger countries in the near future. 

Investors seeking exposure to these growing economies can invest in country-based exchange-traded funds (ETF). Some of the most liquid assets include the iShares MSCI Indonesia ETF (EIDO), iShares MSCI Malaysia ETF (EWM), iShares MSCI Philippines ETF (EPHE), and iShares MSCI Thailand ETF (THD). They have largely underperformed other emerging markets despite promising economic growth the past few years. Thailand remains the only investment to successfully bounce off the 2016 lows and regain new all-time highs. The Pacific country continues to ride the strength of exports and tourism sectors to higher economic growth.