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Driven Caracas

Calling all fund managers or at least any whose desk these words might cross I need a favour. I don’t ask a lot of you primarily it tends to boil down to, as I preached last week, preferring you sell your expertise rather than your products and, should you ever take exception to anything I write here or elsewhere, that you stop short of physical violence.

But here is another request if your PR person or marketing handler kicks off your press briefing by asking that all questions be left until the end, please do not overrule them and tell your audience to feel free to interrupt whenever they feel like it. Apparently, there are journalists out there who will take your good manners quite literally.

I do not know who the journalist was and I do not want to know but nine questions to Hugh Young in the space of 20 minutes? Seriously? Aberdeen’s Asian guru had about 45 minutes to offer his thoughts on the year ahead, so how many questions do you have to ask before it even begins to occur to you that everybody else has turned up to listen to him?

Instead, we had lame attempt after lame attempt trying to stand up yet another headline about possible Chinese bubbles presumably topped or tailed with “Young warns”. I can just about take the flow continually being interrupted by questions after all, the invitation was made but follow-up questions and, at one point, a follow-up to a follow-up to a follow-up? Somebody was having a laugh.

As it happens, the only person who did laugh, well, snort, was me, which I know is unforgivably rude but by this stage I had given up on hearing too much more on the outlook for Asia in 2010 from one of the more highly regarded players in the region.

And the reason for the afore-mentioned snort? Interrupting question number six or maybe seven, which invited Young to consider the similarities between the governments of China (global economic powerhouse) and Venezuela (global economic doghouse).

Oh…my…god.

I suppose statistically there is a chance that the world’s second-biggest economy elect might decide to junk its global PR offensive of the last few years and instead follow Venezuela’s preferred route of alienating everybody it can. It is just not a very big chance and, as such, probably not worth raising with Young, who, to his credit, offered a far more polite response than I would have managed.

Quick quiz in investment terms, what do the governments of China and Venezuela have in common? Teeth, maybe? The number of a reasonably priced tailor? Look, I know not everybody agrees with my policy of never asking questions at press conferences but this instance rather backs up my rationale that, if it is a good question, you would not want your competitors to hear it and, if it is a bad one, why broadcast your ignorance?

So what when he could get a word in edgeways did Young have to say? While highlighting some potential risks for 2010, he still seemed fairly sanguine for the outlook for the Far East, saying: “There can be a massive dislocation between markets and economies but, by and large, the countries of Asia are in good shape and so are their companies.”

Certainly, his view that most of the cash flowing into the region is good quality for example, from institutional and sovereign wealth fund investors rather than “hot money” was reassuring although he did go on to conclude that we could “expect some bumps along the way”, adding: “Given last year, one can’t help but worry that we will have some form of setback.”

Looking very much on the gloomy side, Young thought such possibilities could include a double-dip in the US (as opposed to an upside growth surprise), a dollar crisis or US treasury collapse, policy errors during the exit phase of economic stimulus, the ominous-sounding Factor X, which stands for peripheral event risks not discounted by investors, and oh, what’s this? the risk of a property or asset bubble in China.
So, no need after all for that torrent of questions that, if you had not quite picked up on it yet, were really, really annoying.

Julian Marr is editorial director of marketing-hub.co.uk

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