Fund Manager’s Diary

Friday The gentle lapping of waves stirs me from a deep sleep. I live on a barge – a lovely beast built in the late 1800s in Amsterdam and steamed up the Thames in the 1950s for her new life transporting fruit and veg. Now she has all the creature comforts for the modern financier – telephone, broadband internet access, EastEnders.

The computer is the first device switched on at about 6am. I cast a quick glance over my Asia Pacific holdings and scroll through the previous night’s news from the US. I rarely deal in the wee hours of the morning – the market’s first reaction is usually emotional, not rational, although it gets my thinking cap on.

I spent most of my formative years in Bermuda wearing bright-coloured shorts and burning around the beach circuit on a scooter. The firm frowns upon exposed knees in the office, but I can still ride my scooter to work.

Saturday/Sunday I still get excited before a trip overseas: must be those little toothbrushes and shaving kits. Today I’m flying to Shanghai via Moscow on Aeroflot – as part of a self-imposed cost-cutting exercise I fly in steerage. Two swarthy Russians sitting next to me grunt introductions before unveiling several bottles of vodka. I hesitate for a moment but, not wanting to appear prudish, I join in on toasts to Chelsea and Abramovich. I rouse from the vodka-induced haze as the wheels touch ground at Shanghai’s pristine airport.

Monday Shanghai is an extraordinary example of modern achievement. The business district, Pudong, was farmland just 10 years ago and is now crowded with skyscrapers – although apparently during the summer most of the lights are shut off due to power shortages. I have a meeting with the senior management of one of my smallest investments, a company that is teaching English in China through a blended programme of internet tutorial and classroom time. Following a morning of demonstrations, I am whisked off for a walking tour of the newest shopping mall in the old district of Shanghai. The seven floors are crowded with luxury goods stores and it is difficult to believe that there is enough disposable income in China to afford such treats.

Tuesday to Thursday The main purpose of my trip to China is to attend a three-day conference in Kunming (south west China). I visited a friend in Kunming about six years ago and the city has completely changed. Hundreds of new buildings have been erected and the once dusty streets have been repaved. Cars now outnumber bicycles in this transformed city. They even have a Wal-Mart, which, curiously, locals recommend for authentic Chinese goods.

The conference schedule is packed full of company presentations and meetings with management. The theme of the conference is “Domestic Consumption”, which is predicted to be the next wave of growth in China. But after meeting with over 25 companies, my overwhelming feeling is that most of their business models and managements are built for growth. During periods of economic downturn or new competitive threats, they will suffer disproportionately. Predicting the economic cycle in an emerging economy is a difficult task, so I need to back companies that have defendable products or services, prudent management teams, and sustainable demand. There were only two companies from this conference that fit the bill. My successes are visible, but avoiding failures is the most important part of the job.