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Best of both worlds

Ben Yearsley

I would like to let you in on a little secret, although it probably will come as no surprise. Some fund managers are not that exciting.

In fact, some are rather dull, which is not necessarily a bad quality for someone you are entrusting your money to. Yet there are others so passionate about their subject that they clearly love their job. Anthony Eaton, manager of the JM Finn global opportunities fund, definitely falls into the latter camp.

What makes Mr Eaton so enthusiastic? Quite simply, it is the rapid pace and colossal effects of globalisation and, in particular, the industrialisation and urbanisation of developing countries.

China is the obvious example. The number of Chinese cities with a population of more than one million people has grown from 150 a few years ago to 173 quite mind-boggling when you consider the US has just nine and Europe 36.

As with any great trend, there are investment opportunities. Not only does the physical process of building cities and infrastructure create wealth on a local basis but the demand for commodities and energy stimulates a myriad of other industries. Plus, as cities get bigger and wealthier and as people move from a subsistent standard of living to an urban one, they require more of everything from consumer goods to processed food to luxury items.

The growth in electricity, oil and food is slowing down in the developed world but is still increasing rapidly in emerging nations and demand for all manner of goods is taking off due to rising wealth and wages.

Mr Eaton believes that vast populations and burgeoning wealth in these countries is a far more important consideration than any slowdown in the West and increasingly these populations are competing for the same resources and goods. He says this is the reason copper sells for 3.5 times the cost of production, why a good Bordeaux fetches $10,000 a bottle in Asia and why you wait seven months for a new Volkswagen Golf.

This creates numerous investment opportunities across a broad spectrum of companies. Mr Eaton likes buying into those exposed to growth trends early in their life cycle and that have pricing power due to demand outstripping supply. As part of his analysis, he looks to identify bottlenecks in the global economy to see which companies have the greatest pricing power.

He believes one such bottleneck exists in manufacturing right now as a result of companies reducing their capital expenditure in the recent years of economic turmoil. We have gone from having too few ingredients to having too few machines to mix the ingredients. The investment thesis is simple invest in the companies making the machines.

Commodities remain an interesting strand of this fund too and Mr Eaton highlights some interesting developments in the wake of market falls. Following a 25 per cent decline in the copper price, he notes the Chinese have started buying copper mining firms in the belief that prices have fallen too far and represent an opportunity. Buying existing mines can be a shrewd strategy as new mines often yield less than existing ones another factor restraining supply and keeping prices buoyant.

With this fund, you are buying into the emerging market theme but often through developed market companies. For instance, there is only one Chinese firm in the portfolio at present and Anthony Eaton believes some of the greatest beneficiaries will actually be companies in the West, as they have the advantage of global scale and pricing power. The fund can be volatile but for adventurous investors looking to harness what is perhaps the defining investment trend of the next decade, I believe it is an attractive fund and you will not find a more enthusiastic or passionate fund manager than Anthony Eaton.

Ben Yearsley is investment manager at Hargreaves Lansdown


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