SOMETIMES all you can do is pray. With smoke blocking the sun in much of Southeast Asia, the region's currencies diving and its stock markets gyrating, now seems to be one of those times. Just how badly faith in emerging markets has been shaken was highlighted by the intensity of the war of words between Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and financier George Soros in the warm-up to last week's annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. But at least one man's belief remains intact. Mark Mobius, the president of the Templeton Emerging Markets Fund, watched the Mahathir-Soros clash with interest. 'Mr Mahathir has taught us that an investor is someone that invests in a country and a speculator is someone who takes his money back,' he explained, with a twinkle in his eye, to an audience of potential investors. Mr Mobius said he spent an average of 250 days a year on the road, looking for bargains in the stock markets of what used to be called developing countries. Packing a bag of fundamental analytics - stock-market indices, price-earnings and price-to-book-value ratios, and purchasing-power parity versus actual currency-exchange rates - he sets off. Mr Mobius' look at Mr Mahathir's home turf showed the Malaysian stock market off by 49 per cent from its high earlier this year and the currency down by 17 per cent. The ringgit, which was 12 per cent overvalued in June, had sunk below purchasing-power parity in US-dollar terms. 'All the problems that Mahathir has had will be solved in time, if the currency stays low. So Soros may have done him a favour,' Mr Mobius said, noting the low currency would make Malaysia's exports cheaper. Thailand was his favourite, he said. The stock market had plunged 74 per cent from its high, and the exchange rate was down 34 per cent. 'These are horrendous numbers. Can you imagine the amount of money that has been wiped out? Billionaires have become millionaires overnight!' he said. Templeton investors have not been exempted from the suffering. The company launched a Thai fund in June, when the market was down 50 per cent, and has watched the value of its assets decline since. Mr Mobius, who features prominently in Templeton's advertisements for this and other funds, nevertheless remains willing to put his money where his mouth is. 'I bought it and a lot of other people bought it, and we have lost money. We have lost about 26 per cent. What did I do? Last Friday I bought more,' he said. Time will tell if that was a wise investment. Mr Mobius acknowledged it could be five years before Thailand emerged from its economic funk, but he thought it more likely the economy would show signs of recovery within a year. In comparing the Thai situation with that of Mexico after the peso crisis in 1994, Mr Mobius recounted a conversation he had with a Mexican economist brought in as a consultant to Thailand's finance ministry. A look at the economic data and a walk around Bangkok's markets prompted the economist to predict that the enterprising and optimistic character of the Thai people would allow their economy to recover faster than Mexico.