Economics has a concept called the Paradox of Value. Simply put, it’s the idea that market prices are tied strictly to utility.
Therefore, water, which is essential to life, should have a higher price than diamonds, which are less useful (although a bit rarer). And yet, the opposite is true: Diamonds are expensive and water is cheap.
Well, it’s true for now. That’s because water has been kept artificially low in price for decades, but increasing demand may soon force prices much higher in line with its dwindling supply.
This is especially true with regards to fresh water. We all know the statistics. While 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water, only 3 percent of it is clean enough to drink, and a large chunk of that is in frozen polar ice.
Underground aquifers are being drained faster than they are replaced by natural rainwater. The Colorado River no longer reaches the Pacific Ocean, as most western states continue to draw on it for water needs.
So supply is tight, if not outright dwindling. That makes the price of your water bill look pretty low, especially when you back out the other fees and taxes.
On the demand side, it’s pretty tough to reduce demand. Sure, you could let the lawn die and double up on deodorant as you skimp on showers, but water is more than what’s used in your home. It takes thousands of gallons of water to grow the crops and livestock and manufacture the equipment to process and deliver food to your neighborhood grocery store.
Even if you’re not drinking it out of a glass, there truly is water, water everywhere.
While drinking water is important, the infrastructure to ensure it is just as important too.
In the United States, American Water Works Company (AWK), operates water-related utilities in 30 states. That includes everything from dams to water pipelines to wastewater plants. While shares are at their 52-week highs, they currently sport a 3.1 percent dividend yield.
Globally, over 1 billion people lack access to clean, drinkable water on a daily basis. Add in another estimated 2.6 billion just barely make the mark. So for investors with an eye towards rapidly growing countries and internationalizing their wealth, take a look at Veolia Environment (VE).
This French company is the major global player for developing water infrastructure. It has been rapidly expanding its presence in China, where it already operates in half of the country’s 34 provinces and regions. That gives it greater growth potential than comparative American water companies, and shares currently sport a 5.1 percent yield at current prices.
As much as the world changes, some things don’t. Demand for water, especially clean drinkable water, is one of them.
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