Fund Manager’s Diary

Sunday Johannesburg to Singapore. We leave the hotel early to catch a flight bound for Singapore. This week in South Africa has taken us to Cape Town and Johannesburg to visit companies already in our portfolio as well as those we have not yet invested in. One of the most important reasons for visiting companies on the ground is to absorb some of the atmosphere of the countries in which we are investing. A key aspect of this trip has been the realisation that the consumer market in South Africa has expanded dramatically, as evidenced by the crowds in the shopping centres and other market places.

Monday Singapore to Bangkok. We arrive in Singapore and head directly to the office to catch up on paperwork and get ready for the trip to Bangkok. We’re on the last flight, so we arrive in Bangkok late at night.

Tuesday Today is a full day, with three company visits. The late afternoon is taken up by our global conference research call, which we hold every Monday. The call includes analysts in Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Turkey, South Africa, Poland, Russia, Brazil and Argentina. It’s an essential part of our work in reviewing portfolios and, most importantly, discussing the companies in which we have invested or are planning to invest.

Wednesday Another day full of company visits. Each meeting lasts over an hour and includes discussions with company management teams in a wide variety of firms: banks, manufacturers, insurance companies, retailers, and so on. At the end of the day, after a workout at the gym, it is back to the hotel room to answer emails and do call reports.

Thursday The company visits continue at a fast pace, but this time they include a cement plant tour in the morning, followed by a lunch meeting and two company visits in the afternoon. Plant visits are just as important as sitting down with management teams to discuss company strategy, balance sheets and profit and loss figures, as they give us a clearer understanding of how companies really operate. Just observing the equipment, the workflow, workers’ attitude and the general tone of operations gives us valuable insights.

Friday Our last full day in this dynamic city doesn’t leave much time to play, with five visits to make. This trip to Bangkok has been particularly fruitful because we haven’t spent as much time sitting traffic as in the past. These days, if the traffic is too bad we can hop on the elevated train or the new subway, which takes us quickly to different parts of the city. It is testament to a much-improved infrastructure.

Saturday Bangkok to Singapore. We finally have time this morning to hit the shopping centres to observe how the consumer market is moving and take note of consumer goods pricing. The giant Mahboonkrong Centre – the size of a city block – is one of the best places to do that since it has such a wide range of merchandise sold on countless stalls and shops. (I have funny memories of Mahboonkrong. The vast centre was started by a Mr Mah many years ago. He overextended himself and was hit by financial problems. His creditors and shareholders held a meeting in a local hotel. Unfortunately for them the hotel was owned by Mr Mah. As the meeting got under way Mr. Mah had the lights turned off, leaving them all in the dark, both virtually and literally.) We have to rush back to the hotel to get the van to the airport and board the plane for Singapore.

Sunday Singapore. Next stop Hong Kong.