EghtesadOnline: Here’s some good news: The world’s poorest consumers will get richer. It’s a bet that is already enriching a top performing emerging markets fund in Norway.
Betting on a new consumer class in frontier markets such as Kenya, Tanzania and Vietnam, has given the Holberg Rurik a return of 30 percent, in dollars, over the past five years. That’s better than 91 percent of its peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“They are in an early growth phase, in their most attractive economic phase through history,” Leif Anders Fronningen, who manages the 420 million-krone ($49 million) fund at Holberg Fondsforvaltning AS, said in an interview in Oslo on Tuesday. “They’re smaller markets so there are fewer investors that look at them. You combine higher growth with lower pricing.”
Holberg’s dive into some of the world’s poorest nations has allowed it to skirt a broader drop in more mature emerging markets. Stocks in many developing economies have been dragged down by falling commodity prices and high debt levels. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index, Holberg Rurik’s benchmark, is down 9 percent over the past five years while the MSCI frontier index is down 1.4 percent.
One of the measures 34-year-old Fronningen and his partner, Harald Jermiassen, look at is credit penetration, or how much debt there is in an economy. In many African countries, debt growth has just started, while the “race is finished” in countries such as Turkey and South Africa, he said.
Capturing that growth means investing in high quality, capital-light companies. Typically, the fund finds three to four companies per country after a “tough screening process” and now holds a concentrated portfolio of 25 to 30 “high conviction” cases. Nigerian lender Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Naspers Ltd., and Vietnam Dairy Products JSC are among the biggest holdings.
“We position ourselves for consumption, the domestic demand in the fastest growing economies,” he said. “Good companies that are exposed to the story about the growing middle class.”
The fund managers stay away from energy and commodity producers because of political risk. Generally, weak institutions are the biggest drawback when investing in frontier markets, according to Fronningen.
“There are much stronger arguments for active management in emerging markets than doing it in the U.S.,” he said. “These markets are generally much more inefficient. In the index there are a lot of strange things. Then you get oil companies, mining companies with the whole market.”