Wednesday July 11, 2012
Aberdeen to focus on what counts
By Cecilia Kok
It says will ignore market noises and keep track of companies with good fundamentals
PETALING JAYA: Having positioned itself as a long-term strategic investor in listed companies, global investment management group Aberdeen Asset Management thinks it is essential to ignore market noises and focus on what really counts the underlying fundamentals of companies.
The reason is simple, and it is no secret: good companies with sound fundamentals are usually the ones that can sustain through difficult times and emerge stronger.
Abdul Jalil Abdul Rasheed, the CEO of Aberdeen Islamic Asset Management Sdn Bhd (AIAM) - the group's Islamic asset management arm based in Kuala Lumpur told StarBiz: “We are a bottom-up fund manager ... we are benchmark-aware, but not benchmark-driven.”
That essentially means the group is undeterred by the prevailing broad market or economic conditions when it comes to investing. Its focus is strictly on the individual attributes of a company.
And as to what attributes constitutes good investment potential from Aberdeen's perspective, Abdul Jalil said the group emphasised strong corporate governance, healthy profit and loss statement, stable balance sheet position and cash flow, as well as a sensible business expansion plan, among others.
The Aberdeen group currently has around RM12bil worth of funds invested in Malaysian equities. The group's local portfolio comprises around 30 stocks from various sectors including banking, retail, telecommunications and plantations.
Among the stocks in which Aberdeen currently has significant position are AEON Co (M) Bhd, AEON Credit Service (M) Bhd, Public Bank Bhd, CIMB Group Holdings Bhd, Hong Leong Bank Bhd, Nestle (M) Bhd, DiGi.Com Bhd, Axiata Group Bhd, United Plantations Bhd and United Malacca Bhd.
Abdul Jalil maintained: “We position ourselves as long-term shareholders in the companies. Our position in any particular company is built over a period of time; it is not our approach to rush in and buy stakes in any particular company.”
The group's position in AEON, for instance, has been built over the last 10 years. As part of its normal portfolio adjustment, the group's Malaysian entity, Aberdeen Asset Management Sdn Bhd, had on Monday disposed of 217,800 shares in AEON and ceased to be a substantial shareholder after the share disposal resulted in its stake being reduced to less than 5%.
But in aggregate, the Aberdeen group still has around 70.54 million shares, or around 20% stake, in AEON, held not only through Aberdeen Asset Management, but also through its other vehicles such as AIAM, Aberdeen Asset Management Asia Ltd of Singapore and Aberdeen Asset Managers Ltd (UK). Hence, the group remains a substantial shareholder in AEON.
The same goes for the group's position in Malaysian banks. Abdul Jalil pointed out, for instance, that the group's position in CIMB, in which it currently has about a 10% stake, was built over the last seven to eight years.
“We usually buy a small position first, then we monitor their financial performance on a quarterly basis. When we get more comfortable with the company's standing, we will increase our stake in it,” he explained.Abdul Jalil said the Aberdeen group believed that to be successful in investing, one must be patient and diligent enough to sift through and study the hundreds of listed companies to find gems.
He said the group would send its team of fund managers out to visit more than 200 companies in Malaysia each year to learn about their management and strategy.
“We do our own due diligence; we do not rely on external research at all,” he said.
Abdul Jalil reckoned that there were many well-run, medium-sized companies in Malaysia that had sound fundamentals, and were sitting on a net cash position, but many of these gems had been overlooked by investors.
“To find gems, investors have to widen their horizon and look beyond the 30 largest companies by market capitalisation that give weightage to the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI,” he said.
He conceded that some of the smaller stocks tended to be illiquid, that is, not easily tradable. But for Aberdeen, he said, “we are patient investors, so we can afford to gradually accumulate and increase our position in the companies that we like.”