Commodities guru and renowned international investor Jim Rogers knows how to get someone's attention.
In an interview with Oilprice.com (July 4, 2012), he was questioned about his bullishness on Asia. For those punch-drunk on the India-China propaganda, he threw a surprise when he quoted the best investment opportunity in the world as Myanmar. Yes, you read that right. He sees "enormous opportunities there because they're now opening up".
You can contest Rogers' overly optimistic rhetoric, but to do so would be missing the point. What is of prime relevance is that he has zeroed in on an economy in a region that has gone under the radar of most investors.
Chances are if you have read about Southeast Asia in the news recently, it is over the territorial spat in the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, The Philippines and Vietnam, along with China and Taiwan, have long contested ownership of potentially oil- and gas-rich territories. While they spar, few have discovered what a sweet spot this region is in terms of investment.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently stated that the Southeast Asian nations, commonly referred to as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) cannot side step a global slowdown.
Yet, it has penciled in 6.1% growth in 2013 for the ASEAN 5, which only includes The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.* If that figure does nothing for you, consider the forecast for the Western economies. The crisis-hit Eurozone has its growth forecast for 2013 pegged at 0.7%, the UK at 1.4% and the US at 2.3%.
It's ironical that the region mired in a financial crisis in 1997 has proved itself more resilient to the global gloom. Some media commentaries actually dub it as a safe haven in these tumultuous times. But behind the obvious need for public investment in infrastructure, the consumption theme and good demographics, the nations that comprise this 10-member bloc are a very diverse lot and no generalization is justified.
There is one fund available to Indian investors that offers a play on this geography. JP Morgan JF ASEAN Equity Offshore is a feeder fund that invests in JPMorgan Funds - JF ASEAN Equity Fund. Its 1-year return as on July 27, 2012 is 18%, the BSE Sensex showing a return of -6% during the identical period. Even its year-to-date returns of 17% put it ahead of the Sensex's 11%. The fund was launched in India in 2011, but if one looks at the long-term performance of the underlying fund, it is ahead of the MSCI India Net index.
While this may sound rosy, do remember that there is the currency risk to contend with. The rupee will eventually strengthen and this would hinder your returns. Though your investment is in rupee terms, it would have been converted into foreign currency. It will then need to be re-converted into rupees when you sell your units. If the rupee appreciates when you do so, you would lose out. Over the long term, if the fund continues to deliver well, that negative impact would be nullified to some extent.
The research team at Fundsupermart.com will be taking a deeper look at this fund. Watch this space.
* The remaining countries that are part of the 10-member ASEAN bloc are Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
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