Demographics & Culture
Finding value in today’s global asset markets has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
Populism and renewed protectionist rhetoric are increasingly becoming a threat to world trade. Political uncertainty used to be a key feature of emerging market economies, but now is part of the conversation on the developed world. Add the impact of a decade of unconventional monetary policy, and there are plenty of reasons why investors may be nervous.
But Noriko Chen, Capital Group equity portfolio manager, has a different view.
“In the sea of uncertainty, there’s still a lot of opportunity if you put in the work,” says the co-manager of the New Perspective Fund® and the Developing World Growth and Income FundSM. “Longer-term growth is going to be slower, sure. But there will still be certain companies that grow faster than their peers.”
Chen, who spends half her time visiting plants, factories and evaluating companies in person, says that even in today’s environment, her research and methods for portfolio construction remain the same.
“The changes in the world have meant taking into account more geopolitical factors,” she says. “But the way I look at companies has not changed.”
For more than 25 years, Chen has covered fields from Asian infrastructure, building materials and construction companies to oil, gas and refining companies. That diverse background has helped her in a world where it pays to know as much about a company’s revenue as the currency regime in which they operate – not to mention the mood of the voters.
Here are three areas where Chen says she’s looking at potential opportunities:
“If you can identify companies early on that are regional winners – as opposed to just country winners – you have unique advantages,” Chen says.
While about a third of developed market exports go to emerging markets, Chen says that almost half of trade by emerging markets occurred among these markets themselves. As a result, more regional industry leaders have emerged. In Asia, for example, those leaders are companies such as Samsung Electronics, Thai Beverage and L&T, she says.
Companies with a strong domestic market and a brand that resonates beyond the home country are also worth a look, she continues, noting India as an example of one country to research.
“Having a diverse market for your goods and managers who are looking to expand beyond borders insulates strong companies from the ups and downs of just relying on the home market, where conditions can be volatile,” Chen says.
Barriers to entry will continue to create opportunities for outperformance, says Chen. Look at the semiconductor industry, which has consolidated over the past five years. As companies in that industry have grown, so have their capital expenditures and the value of their intellectual property.
“These increased barriers to entry in different tech sectors give those companies a significant advantage,” Chen says. “Especially as they develop core products that multiple industries are beginning to rely on.”
While industries with high barriers to entry do not automatically generate excess profit, they do offer competitive shelter. Combine an innovative company with a high barrier to entry, and you may have a company worth investing in.
In today’s investing environment, there is little substitute for companies that generate stable cash flow. Innovative health care providers in Japan are a great example because the country’s population is aging and that trend will continue.
“If you can generate good cash flow in any economic environment, then I, as a shareholder, will get to participate in that capital allocation, and my total return will be decent,” says Chen, who looks at investments to hold for at least five years. “I can still find companies like that.”
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