Fidelity Investments has hired James Blair as director of fixed income in Hong Kong in a bid to trumpet its bond expertise to Asian clients and prospects.

"We've been known as more of an equities house in Asia so we needed someone to really champion our fixed income expertise," says Douglas Naismith, managing director in Hong Kong. "We've been building our global fixed income capability for five years and we now manage $400 billion of fixed income worldwide. Blair has been in the hot seat of fixed income for 12 years and can play that role."

The firm recently hired Blair from Aberdeen Asset Management in Singapore, where he had run its fixed income portfolios. He has also managed bond funds for the old SBC (since acquired by UBS).

Blair's new role is a hybrid between managing a portfolio and working directly with clients. He is really the firm's fixed income product specialist in Asia, a new role that is designed to help Fidelity build scale, work on benchmarks, enhance its investment skills down the credit curve and generally promote the firm as a fixed income player - both to clients as well as to carrying the fixed income flag among the firm's strategists. Fidelity has a similar function in London.

Says Naismith: "Until now I've been the only one on our regional management team with fixed income experience, and that has been a weakness."

The actual bond fund management in Asia is being led by Andrew Wells, senior portfolio manager, who now oversees a seven-strong team that the firm intends to grow to about 12 by the end of the year. Wells has been in Hong Kong for two years now. Fidelity is concentrating its regional bond capabilities in Hong Kong although it may also build a team in Japan at some point, Naismith says.

The new emphasis on fixed income is driven by the perception that Asian demand for the asset class is set to grow. Regional governments have been labouring to build depth into their local markets, and political support for pan-Asian bond funds is on the rise. There is also growing interest in Asian bonds as part of global fixed income portfolios that will be managed out of Hong Kong.