Q&A on emerging markets with Mark Mobius

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I have been positive on emerging markets for a while, maintaining that especially China and other Asian countries, as well as resource-based Latin American countries, would be the leaders of the economic recovery and stock market performance in the next upswing. These views are supported by a recent Q&A with Mark Mobius, Templeton Asset Management’s guru on emerging markets, as published in the company’s Market Views newsletter.

Emerging markets have been outperforming thus far in 2009, do you think this trend will continue for the rest of the year?
Although we are optimistic about the opportunities for upside potential, it is important to realize the volatility is still with us and will be with us for some time. This means there will be periods when the markets go down as well as periods when they go up. We should therefore take advantage of dips in the markets to buy stocks cheaply, paying attention to valuations and long-term earnings growth prospects in order to avoid buying or holding expensive stocks. We continue to find good value in markets like China, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa.

What sectors are you looking at now?
Commodity stocks look attractive because many of them have declined below their intrinsic value and we expect the global demand for commodities to continue its long-term growth. Consumer stocks also look attractive. With rising per capita income and strong demand for consumer and other goods, the earnings growth outlook for these stocks is positive.

Will the global equity market retest the low point in March?
There is always the possibility of this happening and it could be triggered by something totally unexpected, such as war breaking out on the Korean peninsula or a massive global flu pandemic. As I have said, markets will continue to be volatile as global economies remain fragile and we should see rises and falls in the months ahead.

Which country do you expect to be the best performer among the BRIC markets?
That would be impossible to say at this time but we think China has a good chance of achieving that goal. Of course, I’m talking about measuring that move from the beginning of this year. Russia also looks very undervalued.

In view of China’s strong market performance, would you say it’s in a bull market?
You can see that it is a bull market since the increase has been so dramatic, but it would be difficult to call it a sustainable bull market in view of its very sharp rise. I still feel we will face volatility and there will be corrections along the way. We do, however, expect China to continue to lead the global market recovery.

Will the Chinese government propose another stimulus package in 2009, and why?
That all depends on the success of the measures already in place. They clearly have the resources to do this again. We should expect them to act if current measures and programs do not produce the desired results.

You mentioned in October that Russia’s cheap stocks were a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Since then, the RTS Index in Russia fell a bit more to 498, then subsequently doubled this year. After that great performance, are stocks still good value, or is it time to take a breather?
Russian stocks still look cheap. Yes, they have risen dramatically from their low point but they are still a long way from their previous high. Of course, the PE has risen this year but Russian stocks, as represented by the MSCI Russia Index, are still trading at a single-digit PE of 6.8x as at end May 2009 – an increase from an even lower 3.4x as at end December 2008.

Do the economic problems within Russia – unemployment rising to 10%, inflation at 13%, and possible GDP contraction of 6% – undermine the investment case for the country right now?
These factors will have a short-term impact on the market, but we always evaluate companies on a long-term basis – taking a five-year view. Thus, we are in fact able to benefit from buying stocks at cheaper prices now.

Do you see any parallels between the market crash of 1998 in Russia and the one over the last year? Is there fear focused on this market that leads to sharper crashes than elsewhere? Did you learn anything in 1998 about Russia that helped you navigate this crisis?
No, because Russia and most other markets are in a much stronger position, financially and economically, than they were in 1998. Russia has built up strong foreign exchange reserves and trade surplus that have enabled it to withstand external shocks to its economy.

The Russian market was also affected by the correction in commodity prices due to its high exports of oil and other commodities, as opposed to any extraordinary fear focused on this market. However, we maintain the view that commodity prices will continue to increase in the long term due to greater demand from emerging markets and a relatively inelastic supply. This will thus benefit Russia in the future.

The most important lesson we’ve learnt from 1998 or any other crisis is that markets always recover – it’s just a matter of time. Thus one should always maintain a long-term and patient view with regard to investing.

Lastly, you have been investing in the emerging markets for the last four decades. Being an expert in investing in emerging markets, do you have any advice to share with investors during the current market situation?
It is very important for investors to remember some key principles: (1) diversify – it is important to diversify in order to minimize risk – this is why investing in a diversified mutual fund is best for investors, (2) look globally – no country has a monopoly on good opportunities so you must search globally – this is why we have global emerging-market funds, (3) be patient – don’t expect to obtain quick gains – the long-term investors do best, (4) don’t invest unless you understand the investment you are making – understanding will strengthen your confidence and enable you to make long-term investments.

Source: Mark Mobius, Templeton Asset Management – Market Views, May 12, 2009.

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