Permal Group is building up its China expertise with the recent additions of distribution specialist Matthew Yao, previously of ING Investment Management Asia-Pacific, and Yale University finance professor Zhiwu Chen.

Chen takes on a consultancy role as chief adviser at Permal, the $23 billion fund-of-hedge-funds affiliate of Legg Mason, where he is expected to provide insights on China and Asia to the firm’s investment committee. An author of books on China’s economy and emerging markets, Chen will retain his position at Yale, which he has held since 1999. 

“China and the Far East has for a number of years been an important focus for our business,” notes Permal CEO Isaac Souede, adding that Chen’s views on those markets, in addition to wider financial markets and investment, will be valuable to the firm.

Souede notes that Chen, whom he has known for a number of years, will give Permal “an additional level of insight from one of China’s most respected financial academics”.

Meanwhile Yao, who joined Permal’s Hong Kong office last month, will focus on Greater China. He joined from ING IM where he was a senior manager for business development, overseeing Chinese institutional and intermediary clients.

Yao reports to Brenda Tse, the firm’s managing director and head of Greater China. She says Yao will help to explore business opportunities for Permal on the mainland.

The new appointments follow the firm’s April 2010 launch of a Sicav-structured China fund of hedge fund called Permal MMF (Lux) China Strategy Fund. The firm has also teamed up with China Credit Trust on the mainland to tap the retail market, where it has established two investment products under the qualified domestic institutional investor (QDII) programme.

Souede last year indicated that Permal may double allocations to Asia to up to 25% of its total global investments – from 10-15% in 2010 – to better capitalise on the region’s growth.