Thursday, February 25, 2010

Matthews Asian Conference Call

One of the benefits of being on the institutional side is the closer relationship and additional access with the funds we invest in than a typical retail investor experiences. Most fund companies devote additional resources catering to investment professionals, like investment advisors and brokers. Whether it’s written updates or conference calls, the ability to hear directly from the portfolio management team is an invaluable part of our ongoing due diligence of the fund, as well as a benefit to our overall investment strategy.

This afternoon, I participated in a webcast involving the director of research and two portfolio managers from the Matthews Asian Funds. We’ve owned the Matthews Asian Growth and Income Fund (Symbol: MACSX) for many years in our portfolios. While nothing in our portfolio is “sacred,” we view the fund as an excellent way to gain access to the fast-growing Asian region of the world. It doesn’t hurt that the fund’s performance has been oustanding, either (see chart below).

The Matthews investment team continues to be very positive on the longer-term prospects for the Asian region as a whole, which may not come as a huge surprise. However, they aren’t blindly bullish, either. They readily admit that it may be a rocky ride from time to time as those economies mature. As far as the current backdrop, they’re a little cautious because valuations have risen as stocks have rebounded over the past year.

Looking forward, they’re expecting certain companies and industries that are dramatically underweight in most Asian indexes to benefit as those economies transition away from being heavily manufacturing dependent and towards more of a service orientation, like most western economies. They specifically mentioned health care as being one of the significantly underrepresented areas that stands to benefit from such a transformation. In that regard, they warned of the “backward looking” nature of most index-type approaches that focus on the Asian region.

Chart: MACSX (red line) vs. S&P 500 (blue line) for the past decade