About Prieur du Plessis

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With 27 years’ experience in investment research and portfolio management, Dr Prieur du Plessis is one of the most experienced and well-known investment professionals in South Africa. More than 1 500 of his articles on investment-related topics have been published in various regular newspaper, journal and Internet columns. He also published a book, Financial Basics: Investment, in 2002.

He holds the following degrees: BSc (Quantity Surveying) (Cape Town), HonsB (B & A) (cum laude) (Stellenbosch), MBA (cum laude) (Stellenbosch); and DBA (Doctor of Financial Management) (Stellenbosch).

Prieur is Chairman of the Plexus group of companies, which he founded in 1995. Previously he was General Manager: Portfolio Management at Sanlam, responsible for the management of investment portfolios with total assets in excess of $5 billion.

Plexus is a pioneer in the mutual fund industry and has achieved a number of firsts under Prieur’s leadership. These include the authoritative Plexus Survey, a quarterly analysis of the consistency of the performance of unit trust management companies, and the PlexCrown Fund Ratings.

Plexus is the South African partner of John Mauldin, American author of the most widely distributed investment newsletter in the world, and also has an exclusive licensing agreement with California-based Research Affiliates for managing and distributing its enhanced Fundamental Index™ methodology in the Pan-African area.

In addition to investment management, Prieur has helped facilitate a number of major corporate transactions, most notably the exclusive South African franchise for 25 Holiday Inn hotels and a R1.5 billion private property fund. Both these transactions resulted in significant inward investment being made into South Africa from abroad.

Prieur was named 2011 Alumnus of the Year by the University of Stellenbosch Business School for outstanding business achievement. In 2001 he received the Santam/AHI Business Leader of the Year award for corporate leadership, business acumen and entrepreneurial flair. He was also profiled in the book South Africa’s Leading Managers (2006). Plexus received the AHI/Old Mutual Enterprise of the Year award in 1997 and was also included in the book South Africa’s Most Promising Companies (2005).

Prieur is professor extraordinaire at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, teaching investment management. He also serves as Honorary Consul of Slovenia for South Africa, actively developing economic, cultural and scientific relations between Slovenia and South Africa.

Prieur lives by the words “living to run, running to live”. This motto manifests itself directly in his management style and keen participation in long-distance running, and also in Plexus’s sponsorship of the annual Plexus Races (marathon, half-marathon and 8km). The primary goal of these events is to raise funds for a number of charities, especially Proud Partners – an organisation formed by Plexus in co-operation with Prieur’s wife, Isabel Verwey (former TV producer and presenter), which uplifts previously disadvantaged communities through the provision of musical instruments and tuition to a large number of schools.

Prieur is 56 years old and lives with his wife and two children in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. In addition to running, his recreational activities include reading, travelling, motor cycling and scripophily. He belongs to the Cape Town Club, Johannesburg Country Club, Gordon’s Bay Yacht Club and Swiss Social & Sports Club.

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I was recently interviewed by Mert Erkal (Search for Blogging) for the April 2008 edition of Bloghology. The questions and answers are republished below.

Mert Erkal: Prieur, please tell us about an investment professional’s life especially when alarm bells are ringing for global economy.

Prieur du Plessis: The investment environment is notoriously dynamic (or, perhaps, volatile) in the sense that different political, economic and a myriad other variables are forever changing and influencing the course of financial markets – sometimes irrationally, at least on the face of it.

An investor’s unique “investment personality” plays an important role in the way he/she copes with decision making, especially when confronted with lots of “noise”, but experience (i.e. grey hair) does provide one with a framework within which to assess situations logically and calmly.

I find investment to be totally absorbing – nothing short of a very specific (albeit exhilirating) lifestyle – allowing one not only to cope with “alarm bells”, but also to seek out opportunity when the world seems to be falling off a cliff. It is in such situations that the wheat is separated from the chaff and true dedication and professionalism invariably lead to superior investment returns.

Mert Erkal: You have 25 years’ experience in investment research and portfolio management. What was the motive behind creating your own blog?

Prieur du Plessis: I write primarily to organize my thoughts about financial markets and this has become a way of life. The truly original ideas usually come to me when I do my daily run.

I only started blogging in May 2007, but more than 1 200 of my articles on investment-related topics have been published prior to that in various regular newspaper, journal and Internet columns. I have also published a book, Financial Basics: Investment.

Although I am an investment professional, I have always seen the blog site as something personal rather than a commercial venture, but it has created global awareness for our investment management business, Plexus Asset Management, which may lead to monetary gain in the longer term.

Mert Erkal: How did you name your blog? Please describe your blog.

Prieur du Plessis: I’ll first answer the last part of the question. Investment Postcards from Cape Town is an international investment blog, focusing on the macro-outlook for stock markets, bonds, currencies and commodities (including gold).

In addition to investment articles, the blog also features a delightful section on investment humor (for those moments when the weight of down-markets becomes just a little too much to bear), podcasts, an index ticker, stock market polls, video clips and a translator.

The blog offers objective comment packaged in an easily comprehensible manner and has attracted in excess of 5 000 subscribers over a relatively short period.

As far as the blog site’s name is concerned, my aim is to write short and punchy posts on investments, in the same way as one will strive to convey a message within the space limitations of a postcard.

The “from Cape Town” bit has been added to the title in order to create some distance, literally and figuratively, between the hustle and bustle of the world’s premier financial centres – where the herd instinct is often prevalent – and the more tranquil Cape Town surroundings where I find it easier to formulate independent and objective investment ideas.

Mert Erkal: When reading your biography, I noticed that you like long-distance running. Do you see similarities between blogging and long-distance running?

Prieur du Plessis: There are numerous similarities between blogging and long-distance running, suffice to highlight the following four:

* Both blogging and long-distance running have as goal to excel over the longer term, i.e. to endure to reach a marathon personal best, or to provide high-quality blogging content that will build a loyal subscriber base and withstand the test of time. (It is, however, also tempting to be ahead at each 100-yard interval!)

* Success in both instances depends partly on natural talent, but also on dedication and perseverance. In reality, self-discipline is paramount.

* Both blogging and long-distance running are individual “sports”, rather than team “sports” where the momentum of a group of people can spur you on to greater achievement. This requires a “self-starting”-type of temperament in order to get the job done, and eventually to excite a large number of spectators / readers.

* Long-distance runners continuously fight the adversity of injury. Bloggers, similarly, get “injured” by writer’s block, comments in bad taste, wrong market calls (in the case of investment bloggers), etc. Fighting injury and regaining top form in both instances require mental toughness.

In short, I have become quite dependent on both blogging and running to provide my daily dosage of adrenalin. And the bonus is that they both work just fine on my travels across the globe.

Mert Erkal: What are your (investment) wise suggestions for Bloghology readers in 2008?

Prieur du Plessis: We are dealing with a rather unusual set of investment circumstances in the wake of the sub-prime fallout. Frequent comparisons with the Great Depression are the order of the day. In my opinion, the world may not quite be faced with Armageddon, but the uncertainty nevertheless calls for a prudent approach when it comes to money management. I therefore recommend that investment strategy should emphasize capital preservation, i.e. the return of capital rather than the return on capital.

The key to successful long-term investing remains compounding, i.e. investing regularly over a long period in a portfolio of solid dividend-paying stocks that can weather most short-term storms. But do accept that the investment world is becoming increasingly specialized and that it makes sense for most people to seek out professional help, particularly from advisers who have shown their mettle in both bull and bear markets.

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