Edinburgh-based Martin Currie Investment Management is about to open an office in Singapore in order to provide client servicing in the region. It is the opening move in a deeper push.
The firm has a long history of investing in Asian markets, particularly in Japan and China, but it is now entering a new phase involving more people on the ground.
It has hired someone to lead the Singapore office, but is unable to announce the name as the executive is still at another firm.
Part of the reason to choose Singapore as a regional base for client servicing and business development is because the firm also has ambitions to open a dealing desk over the next year or so, and Singapore offers plenty of talent with reasonable costs. Also the government makes it very easy to open shop there.
Martin Currie has been investing in Asian equities since the 1920s, and in Japan in a serious way since the 1960s, although it has no domestic presence there. Its first Asian office was in Shanghai, which opened in 1997, and continues to be led by Chris Ruffle and Ke Shifeng.
James Fairweather, Edinburgh-based CIO, explains the firm has always preferred to keep its portfolio managers and analysts together in the same office, both to encourage long-term outlooks by filtering out a lot of noise, as well as to share ideas more effectively.
But as Asia's domestic economies become more relevant (as opposed to Japan's, where stock ideas are primarily about exports), it has become necessary to add local analysts and PMs. This is especially true in a market such as China's, as the best ideas are among small- and mid-cap stocks; that kind of research cannot be done effectively out of Edinburgh.
For now the Singapore office is just for client servicing, but Fairweather's team may consider adding local analysts or portfolio managers.
This follows on the firm having opened an office last year in Melbourne under country head Kimon Kouryialas, who previously ran Aussie distribution for Legg Mason (as part of the former Citigroup Asset Management team that was acquired by Legg Mason). The firm has also recently appointed Brian Canavan as an investment analyst for its Asia team; he is based in Hong Kong, although Martin Currie doesn't have a formal office in the territory.
The Singapore client servicing rep will report to Kouryialas, although future investment or dealing hires would report to Edinburgh.
Fairweather says this activity reflects the firm's view that, after many years of anticipation, Asian markets have finally become self-sustaining. The region is now marching to the beat of its own drummer, without the financial issues that will hobble the United States and Europe for the coming several years.
Similarly, he argues that a firm such as Martin Currie -- independent, employee owned, and focused solely on managing global equities -- has a chance to take business from incumbents, post-crisis.
"Big investment-management brands did well in Asia, but that is changing," Fairweather argues. "Investors are focusing less on product and more on your organisation, your ability to retain talent, and your independence."