HONG Kong's retail unit trust industry can expect to expand significantly in the future judging by the experience of some Western countries, says Fund Research chairman Richard Timberlake. Speaking at a seminar for unit trust and mutual fund investors at the Conrad Hotel yesterday, Mr Timberlake said that since 1980 mutual fund penetration of the US population had risen from two per cent to 15 per cent in 1992. A similar level of penetration had been achieved in France and penetration in Britain was slightly less. In Hong Kong the unit holder base is estimated at two per cent of the population. Mr Timberlake told the Credit Lyonnais-sponsored event that there were three significant factors set to shape the global fund industry in the future. They were the rationalisation of the European industry, continued money flows from the United States and a continued flow of money into Asia and emerging markets. ''Although people talk a lot about American money coming in to Hong Kong and Asia, they should not ignore the Europeans. In 1992 the inflow from the Europeans was greater than the United States,'' said Mr Timberlake. As a percentage of total money flows overseas, the most significant year for emerging markets was 1990. The proportion Southeast Asia made up of net flows into emerging markets fell and remained relatively low from 1988 to 1991. After this period the proportion of total emerging market money going into Southeast Asia grew significantly.