Mobius Sees Way to Dodge Zuma Risks in South African Stock PicksBy , , and
Emerging-markets investor bullish on Brazil, Saudi Arabia
Venezuela could become interesting if government changes
South African companies that have diversified beyond the country’s borders are the best bet for investors, because their fortunes are less tightly entangled with the political risks posed by the presidency of Jacob Zuma, said Mark Mobius, the executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Market Group.
Decisions taken by Zuma have moved markets, most recently in March, when he fired Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. The rand weakened and S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. stripped Africa’s most-industrialized economy of its investment-grade credit status. Risks from shocks like that can be mitigated, Mobius said.
“We look at the companies and see how dependent are they on government policies," Mobius said in an interview in Dubai Tuesday. “South Africa has some of the best-managed companies in the world. And a lot of these guys were smart enough to expand globally.”
The Templeton Developing Markets Trust fund, with $1.5 billion in assets as of April 28, delivered gains of 39 percent in the past year, better than 96 percent of 785 similar funds tracked by Bloomberg.
Mobius said he is bullish on consumer companies in markets from Brazil to Saudi Arabia, and that Venezuela could become a hot spot for investors should there be a change in government. The following are some of his views:
Naspers Ltd., the media and digital company that has grown to be Africa’s most valuable, is among stocks that have Mobius’s attention. It’s the continent’s largest pay-television provider and owns a one-third stake in Tencent Holdings Ltd., China’s biggest Internet company. “This is not a really South African company," he said. “They have satellite communications all over Africa and their biggest assets are these internet companies. These are the assets that we look at. So we are hedged in that sense, if there is a big disaster or if the local market doesn’t do well.”
The country’s broad corruption investigation is “like a French Revolution without the bloodshed,” Mobius said. “People want to see changes. They are fed up with corruption. They have been able to apply the rule of law to an extent that is really amazing. It is a case-study for other emerging markets on what can be done.” While the next year or so could “look chaotic,” the longer-term outlook is positive.
A change in government would be among crucial steps toward winning back investors, Mobius said. “What’s putting the pressure on is the oil price. And the fact that you could even have sabotage and corruption in the oil fields creates all kinds of issues for the government. We used to have a big holding at the electric company in Caracas, but sold it when Chavez came in. It is an “economy with potential.”
If President Mauricio Macri wants to implement real change, “he has got to take some painful measures,” Mobius said. That would include allowing prices to move freely within the country, he said. “The consumer price index was fixed, was all false. If you want to have investments coming in, you have to make it viable. All of the chaos has to be stopped. The good news is that the population is very sophisticated.”
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., especially Dubai, are interesting markets, but offer few investment options. “There is not enough here. With Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, hopefully the reform movement will gather pace and they will do more privatization.” In Saudi Arabia, Mobius likes the consumer sector, oil and gas services and companies related to infrastructure, such as suppliers and cement companies.
“If India continues on the current path of very fast growth and reform, they could replace China as a growth engine in the next three, four, five years.” Still, its development has a long way to run. “They understand markets, but there are great parts of the country that have not been touched” in terms of penetration by the banking system, Mobius said.
As long investors are able to operate openly and get the information they need, Turkey will retain its allure, said Mobius. “We are going to invest,” he said. “When Erdogan came in, things really got much better with the economy and corporate governance. There could be opportunities there. People, when you talk to them, are very unwilling to say anything about the government. But we are still invested, we have a few private-equity investments that are doing very well."
The re-election of Hassan Rouhani “unfortunately is not going to change things very much. Because the supreme leader was not really in favor of him getting that win. I don’t think we will see immediate change. We will have to wait longer.”
— With assistance by Tracy Alloway