Franklin prefers India to China for equities

BS 10/3/10

India offers better opportunities for equity investors compared with China as the growth potential is stronger and there are more quality Indian companies to choose from, Franklin Templeton’s International Chief Investment Officer Stephen Dover said today.

India offered a larger investment universe of about 5,000 firms whereas foreigners hoping to tap the China growth story are restricted to a smaller number of Hong Kong-listed Chinese stocks, Dover told reporters in Singapore.

"India is investible in a very broad range of companies and also a broad range of industries… (but) most investors have not really been able to participate in the big growth in China since 1982," Dover said.

Besides the wider choice of stocks to invest in, Franklin Templeton also said India’s growth trajectory was higher because of its younger population and the expected lift from large-scale infrastructure spending that had only began recently.

Dover oversees investments at Franklin Templeton’s local asset management units around the world, which have about $25 billion in assets under management, including bonds.

The local asset management group’s funds mostly carry the Franklin brandname unlike the emerging markets group headed by Mark Mobius whose funds use the Templeton prefix.

According to Franklin Templeton, its Franklin India fund gained 81 per cent in dollar terms in the 12 months to end-January, underperforming the benchmark MSCI India index which rose 96 per cent over the same period.

The Franklin fund’s three-year return was, however, higher at an annualised 7.7 per cent versus 4.7 per cent for the benchmark.

The Franklin Asian Flex Cap Fund, which invests in Asia ex-Japan, has a one-year return of 64 per cent compared with a 71 per cent rise in the MSCI All Country Asia ex-Japan index.

Sukumar Rajah, Franklin Templeton’s CIO for Asian equities, said the firm’s top picks in India included Infosys, HDFC Bank and Bharti Airtel, which had high growth and good margins and a track record of funding their expansion from free cash flows.

He said that while there were concerns that Bharti, India’s largest mobile operator, is paying too much to buy the African operations of Kuwait’s Zain, Franklin Templeton will stay invested because of management’s good track record.

"Our view is that management is sensitive to adding value to shareholders. Our experience with Bharti has been very good," he said.

Franklin Templeton owns about 23.2 million shares in Bharti, according to Thomson Reuters data.

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