Fidelity Investments strategist says Japan offers good value

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 1997, 12:00am

Barton Biggs is not the only strategist who still believes in Japan.

Fidelity Investments' regional investment director Keith Ferguson sees good value and long-term potential for growing corporate profits in Japan.

Fidelity went overweight on Japan in the middle of last year, then increased its weighting in the last quarter, Mr Ferguson said.

The call is particularly daring considering the poor performance of Fidelity's Japan funds in recent years.

According to Financial Times/HSW statistics, Fidelity's Japan Smaller Companies unit trust is down 33.7 per cent over the past year. Over five years, the fund is off 15.5 per cent.

Mr Ferguson said he was taking a forward-looking approach.

'We might have been a bit early, but this is a long-term view. Going forward we believe there is a long-term potential for profits to surprise in Japan,' he said.

'The economy is seeing a broader base recovery, so you could see some of the blue-chip and smaller companies doing well.' He was particularly bullish on consumer goods such as electronics and cars.

Across the rest of Asia, Mr Ferguson sees a combination of export growth in the second half and loose monetary policy setting the stage for a bullish year for Asian stocks.

'The growth will be export-led and exports are a proxy for liquidity,' he said.

Hong Kong and China would lead the region this year as their export cycles were already enjoying an upsurge. He also liked Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Export growth would come to the rescue of laggards such as Korea and Thailand.

'We are pretty near to the bottom for some of the countries that have had bad news,' he said.

In Hong Kong, Mr Ferguson was bullish on banks, while on a regional basis he liked infrastructure plays, utilities, gaming and tobacco stocks.

The stocks he said to avoid were petrochemicals and airlines, due to low product prices and over-capacity.

Export growth and ample liquidity would also cushion Asia from an expected rise in US interest rates.

'Any current account improvement in Asia will increase liquidity in the region, which will offset any potential tightening in US economic policy,' Mr Ferguson said.

Adding to that liquidity would be increased flows from international investors if US stocks weaken. He said US valuations were high, while earnings growth would slow this year.

'The key thing to look at in the US is that valuations are really stretched. Earnings this year will probably be less than in 1996,' he said.