What a difference a day – and a change in location – makes when it comes to hedge fund conferences.
Talk about US Federal Reserve tapering – which had dominated panels at yesterday's Salt Asia conference – had waned by the second day of the event, where discussions centred on matters within the region.
China, which had been named the market to short just four months ago at Salt Las Vegas, is being viewed rather differently by panelists at the Singapore event.
"We have been cautiously optimistic about the Chinese economy, even in a slowdown scenario," says Joseph Zeng, partner at Greenwoods Asset Management. The firm is a China-focused hedge fund manager which has seen double-digit returns in one of its funds during the first eight months of this year.
"We believe the slowdown in China is a good slowdown in the long term," Zeng said during a panel on accessing and navigating the mainland market. "Because if China doesn't slow down it will enter into a bubble [period] in a few years."
Greenwoods has made returns this year on TMT (technology, media and communications) and mobile internet-related stocks, as well as a leading cosmetic brand in China, he adds.
Meanwhile, the firm is short-selling stocks of companies that rely heavily on the investment of fixed assets in China, which will be impacted by the economic slowdown, says Zeng. They include railway infrastructure and building materials businesses.
Looking outbound, China Investment Corporation is examining opportunities in European hedge funds, particularly in the distressed space, says fellow panelist Roslyn Zhang, managing director of fixed income and absolute return investments at the sovereign fund.
"I'm spending more time looking into Europe. We have been covering Europe for a couple of years already but now we feel that is is closer to the point of opportunity" in terms of making allocation, says Zhang. "We have been looking at [Europe] from a more distressed investment perspective."
As for Japan, the darling of Asia – according to US hedge funds at Salt Las Vegas – has not been seen in the same light by domestic investors more recently, argued another panel.
Toru Kubota, senior investment consultant at Towers Watson in Tokyo, notes that while the Japanese equity market is up 50% from last November to August, "domestic Japanese investors as a whole were in fact net sellers in Japanese equities". Conversely, foreign investors were net purchasers, "especially short term or opportunistic investors such as hedge funds".
Domestic pensions in particular "have been reducing their allocation to Japanese equities in the last decade", from about 34% of their portfolio allocation in 2004 to 16% as of March this year, he says. "[It is] mainly due to the poor performance of Japanese equities in the last decade."
While pensions are selling down, Japanese-based hedge funds – which were up an average of 18.4% in the first seven months of the year – are finding opportunities in select sectors amid unstable markets.
Mamoru Taniya, chairman of Tokyo-based hedge fund firm Asuka Asset Management, says he has taken a bullish view on construction, healthcare and media companies, and also on stocks in industries related to social infrastructure.