Future Returns: Finding Value in Asian Emerging Markets
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Future Returns: Finding Value in Asian Emerging Markets

Where to look in Asia’s emerging markets.

By Abby Schultz
Wed, Aug 25, 2021 3:34pmGrey Clock 4 min

Chinese regulators have been cracking down on the nation’s tech companies—sending stock prices reeling—but Frank Brochin, senior portfolio manager in the institutional advisory practice at the Colony Group in Boston, is confident the long-term growth story for China will continue to pay off for investors.

To Brochin, who manages money on behalf of endowments, foundations, and family offices, Chinese stocks will continue to strengthen from long-term growth factors fueling the economy, including the rise of the urban middle class, increasing domestic consumption, and the growth of the services economy.

The story is similar, if not even more attractive, in India and Southeast Asia, making “developing Asia” among the best places to invest in the world today for long-term investors, according to Brochin.

“Unlike other emerging markets, in Asia you have a secular economic and social transformation taking place,” he says. These factors “will give economic growth for the next couple of decades, while at the same time the markets are attractive.”

Penta recently spoke with Brochin about his views on investing in Asian markets, even as declining Asian tech shares contribute to driving emerging market indexes south. For the year through Aug. 23, the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets exchange-traded fund (ticker: EEM) is down 2.33% compared with a 17.4% gain in the iShares MSCI World ETF (URTH).

For institutional investors, Colony invests almost exclusively in active managers in emerging markets who have an on-the-ground presence and can select public and private companies poised to benefit from the dual trends of urbanization and rising domestic consumption.

Why China Remains a Good Bet

The performance of Chinese tech stocks such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700.Hong Kong), and ride-hailing company Didi Global (DIDI) began grabbing headlines in the fall of 2020 as they attracted increasing attention from the country’s regulators. In November, Ant Group’s anticipated US$3.4 billion initial public offering was suspended after executives of the Alibaba payments firm and Jack Ma, founder and controlling shareholder, met with Chinese regulators.

But Brochin says China’s heightened scrutiny is about catching up to regulations that Western countries, including the U.S., have had in place for years, and they are looking beyond tech to also include pharmaceutical companies, real estate, and other domestic industries.

China is a country emerging from a period of strong economic growth that “suddenly finds itself with Alibaba representing 20% of [the] gross market value of all retail sales in China,” he says. “In effect, they are truly just catching up and trying to align business practices with the long-term interests of the nation.”

In Brochin’s view the crackdowns are “not an assault on private entrepreneurs.” The Chinese Communist Party knows they need continued economic prosperity and economic growth to stay in power, and “they know the private sector provides that prosperity to the people of China,” he says.

India as a “Favourite Place” to Invest

The urbanization and increasing domestic consumption happening in China is also occurring in India, although the social and economic transformation of the country has a longer way to go, Brochin says.

Nearly half the population of India, for instance, is still employed in agriculture or agricultural-related jobs, he says, which points to the potential for growth as that percentage declines.

With only about US$2,000 of gross domestic product per capita in India, compared with closer to US$10,000 of GDP/capita in China, the country has a long runway for growth, Colony said in an earlier report.

India also has “a very young and growing population” versus China, which “has plateaued,” and it is “a more domestically focused economy and a Democracy,” Brochin says.

Also, household expansion in India’s urban areas is growing at about 4.4% a year—faster than its population growth of about 1.1%—because the trend is for multi-generations of families to no longer live under the same roof, according to Colony.

Another benefit: India applies “the rule of law” and its stock market is similar to the west, Brochin says.

“The growth drivers are the same as in China, but will take place over a much longer period of time,” he says, adding that India is the firm’s “favourite place in the world outside of the U.S. where we invest.”

The Benefit of Inefficiencies in Southeast Asia

Colony also favours selective investments in Southeast Asia, noting that the region—from Bangladesh to Indonesia—is home to about 850 million people, more than in the U.S. and Europe combined.

“You have a seriously critical mass of population and a critical mass of economic activity,” Brochin says.

And countries in the region, which include Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia, are affected by many of the same growth drivers as China and India as people move from rural areas to the cities. Many Southeast Asian countries, too, are at the very beginning of this growth trajectory, meaning their economies should continue expanding for a couple of decades.

One difference is that the markets are inefficient, volatile, and there is very little stock research—factors that can provide an opportunity for those who know where to look.

In a report, Colony points out that there are more than 4,400 companies trading publicly in Southeast Asia, while the percentage covered by analysts ranges only from 8% in Bangladesh to 42% in Thailand.

“If you use active managers, people who are on the ground who can find companies that few investors have paid attention to, you can do well in Southeast Asia,” Brochin says.

Reprinted by permission of Penta. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 24, 2021.



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

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