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Hermes Has Message of Warning on Emerging-Market Stock Optimism

(Bloomberg) -- Equity investors jumping into the post-Brexit rally in emerging markets are underestimating the dangers of slowing economic growth and global political turmoil.

That’s the view of Gary Greenberg, a money manager who scored better returns than 97 percent of his peers in the past 12 months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Investors caught by a blind bullishness are overlooking risks such as weakening demand in China, oil-price fragility and the potential fallout from the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union, he said.

Which is why he’s keeping his portfolio “more defensive” amid a rally that’s lifted most equity markets since the Brexit referendum. In an environment of mounting political risks, the surest way to earn enduring returns is to invest selectively in companies that enjoy a competitive edge against peers, pay regular dividends and have a track record of growth even in economic turmoil, he said.

“It’s more the weight of the money” that’s driving the rally, Greenberg, who oversees the $1 billion Hermes Global Emerging Markets Fund, said in an interview at his London office. “I don’t think we’re out of the woods. We have a very modest global economy, and in emerging markets there isn’t a whole lot of acceleration going on. We haven’t seen earnings estimates turn positive.”

Post-Brexit Performance

That strategy has helped him beat nine out of 10 fund-manager rivals in the past month, as the S&P 500 Index rose to all-time highs, the prospect of continued central-bank stimulus in the world’s biggest economies sent bond yields plunging and emerging-market currencies from Brazil to South Africa strengthened.

While favoring markets such as India where economic reforms may support equity gains, Greenberg has also identified companies in Russia and Brazil that are better able to withstand economic downturns. Still, the “magical cycle” hasn’t returned yet for most developing nations, he said.

Holdings in Greenberg’s fund, which has also outperformed most similar funds in the past five years, include the following stocks:

Sberbank PJSC

Earnings resilience at Russia’s largest lender convinced Greenberg to ignore a second year of contraction in the Russian economy and buy its shares this year. First-half results proved his bet right, as the bank’s net income jumped 63 percent under Russian accounting standards. The growth showed the bank was “able to weather recession surprisingly well” and was matched by adequate provisioning for bad loans, he said.

Banco Macro SA

Greenberg favors the Argentine lender because the nation is “starting a recovery from mismanagement” and banks are well positioned to finance the redevelopment.

Land Mark Optoelectronics Corp.

Some of Greenberg’s bets are centered on the idea that profit opportunities in emerging markets will shift to companies that control new technology from those that compete on low labor costs. Land Mark Optoelectronics, a Taiwanese maker of diodes for transmission of data through light, has technological expertise that rivals competitors, according to Greenberg, who bought into the stock “over a month ago.”

China Biologic Products Inc.

The maker of treatments made from blood plasma has no debt, has a return on equity of 25 percent, earnings growth of more than 20 percent and operates in a niche with “high barriers to entry,” according to Greenberg, who purchased the stock at the end of last year and has been increasing positions over the past six months. Beijing’s strict regulation of companies licensed to collect blood means the supply of plasma-based therapies trails demand.

NMC Health Plc

The Middle Eastern hospital chain is “inexpensively valued with good growth prospects,” according to Greenberg, who invested in it two months ago. Operating in an industry with perennial demand and an economy that is “stable and wealthy,” NMC qualifies as a “defensive” investment, he said. The company is seeking acquisitions in Asia and trades at a 28 percent discount to emerging-market peers.

Siliconware Precision Industries Co.

Greenberg says he seeks to hold an “all-weather portfolio” that includes companies such as this Taiwanese semiconductor maker, whose consistency in paying dividends shows financial discipline in the face of rapid growth. The firm’s payouts increased 39 percent over the past three years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The company offers a dividend yield of 7.9 percent, compared with 1.9 percent for the MSCI Emerging Markets Information Technology Index.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Levitov in London at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daliah Merzaban at [email protected] Srinivasan Sivabalan, Stephen Kirkland

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