Q&A on emerging markets with Mark Mobuis

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A recent Q&A with Mark Mobius, Templeton Asset Management’s emerging markets guru, follows below, courtesy of the company’s Market Views newsletter.

What are the pros and cons of investing directly in emerging market equities and bonds as opposed to companies based in developed markets with emerging markets operations?

By directly investing in emerging market equities you obtain full exposure to emerging markets while with investing in developed market companies with emerging market operations, you don’t get that full exposure and you also get slow moving markets with lower growth potential mixed in. One advantage of some developed market companies is that they could have a global coverage thus giving the investor a more diversified coverage. Of course, there are also some emerging market companies that have that kind of coverage as well.

How probable is further tightening of monetary policy in China within the near future – and what would that step look like?

It is highly probable that there will be tightening of monetary policy in specific areas and not as a general policy. The Chinese have made it clear that they want to ensure that economic growth continues at a high pace and that means that they would want to keep liquidity and money supply at a high level with the proviso that if inflation increases then they would restrict lending and money supply to some degree. They will try their best to avoid taking any measures which would jeopardize the country’s growth and therefore any tightening will be specific and targeted to inflation in certain areas.

What is your outlook for Africa?

We believe that the outlook for Africa is very good for three main reasons: (1) abundant natural resources, (2) a young population, and (3) heightened interest from rich emerging market countries. Africa has some of the world’s greatest deposits of natural resources, and only a fraction of those resources have been tapped. In addition, it has a young and growing population who could improve their education and skills to become a major asset to expanded manufacturing and mining enterprises. These factors have stimulated the interest of countries like China and India, who require more natural resources for their growing economies, as well as countries like Russia and Brazil, who look to expand their enterprises into global operations. Countries around the world are showing growing interest in manufacturing within Africa for the African market, particularly emerging countries that have the capabilities to operate in challenging political and economic environments.

Africa is an interesting region. In South Africa, efforts by local companies to expand their international market share, as well as the presence of capable management teams, can assure investors of finding bargains here. Higher global demand for commodities, a recovery in domestic demand and the preparations for and hosting of the 2010 World Cup should further support economic growth this year.

In addition to South Africa, we have been taking a look at the lesser-known frontier markets in Africa, some of which are very large countries, such as Nigeria. Regional markets such as Egypt and Kenya are also beginning to look attractive, and we are seeing the growth of new markets in this region. Libya, for example, already has a stock market and is encouraging the privatization of state-owned enterprises – a development being repeated in a number of African countries.

Some commentators are saying that frontier markets represent some of the best contrarian investments at the moment – do you agree with this and why?

Yes, that is certainly the case. For example, many people would never invest in Nigeria or even might not even visit the country for fear of confronting violence but actually there are excellent investment opportunities. So there are opportunities simply because those opportunities are not attractive to other investors since they are not familiar with the possibilities.

Qatar, Kazakhstan and Nigeria are among those countries being cited as ones to watch this year – why do you think this is?

Those are some countries that are citied as being watched but we should add a number of others such as Vietnam, Romania and a number of others. Qatar, Kazakhstan and Nigeria are all being watched because of their natural resources: Qatar – gas, Kazakhstan – oil, and Nigeria – oil.

Are there any particular sectors within frontier markets that you think will perform better than others?

We employ a bottom-up, value oriented, long-term approach. As we look for investments, we focus on specific companies rather than sectors or regions. However, during our analysis, we also consider the company’s position in its sector, the economic framework and the political environment.

Our focus continues to be on two key themes: consumers and commodities. With rising per capita income and strong demand for consumer goods, the earnings growth outlook for these stocks is positive. Commodity stocks also look good because we believe commodity prices will trend upwards, partly because of weakness in the U.S. dollar, and also because we expect the global demand for commodities to outgrow supply over the long term.

Source: Mark Mobius, Franklin Templeton Investments – Emerging Markets Overview, March 10, 2010.

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