Mark Mobius has been called a lot of things in his 40-year investing career. Indiana Jones. The Pied Piper of Emerging Markets. The Yul Brynner of Wall Street.
Now, he's The Bald Eagle - comic book action hero.
Mr. Mobius, the emerging markets guru who oversees more than $40-billion in assets as head of the Templeton Emerging Markets funds, is the subject of a new biography published by Japanese publisher PanRolling Inc. Thing is, this biography is a "manga" - a comic-book format popular among Japanese adults.
"This company does a number of these comics about the financial markets," Mr. Mobius said in an interview this week from Mumbai. (He spends 200-plus days a year away from his home base in Singapore, researching investing opportunities first-hand.)
He said he came across PanRolling's market mangas (which include a Warren Buffett comic) at a conference in Japan, and the publisher asked him if he would be the subject of a new book.
"The cartoonist who did this spent about a year just looking at my life, my background, my experiences, and he came up with this."
Playing a comic book hero seems somehow fitting for the 71-year-old investing pioneer. His trademark shaved head, crisp white suits and clipped, pan-global accent convey a mysterious, other-worldly persona when you meet him.
Add to that his more than 40 years of globetrotting, which have included ducking bullets during a military coup in the Philippines and running from armed carjackers in Brazil (both dramatically chronicled in the book), and he's about as close to a real-life action hero as you'll find in the facts-and-figures world of investing.
"We've had a great response from all over," he said of the book, which is available in both Japanese and English through Amazon.com's Japanese Web portal. "All the sales offices have been ordering this book, they've been giving it to their clients," Mr. Mobius said.
"I'm very pleased; it's very, very good."
Well, maybe for a comic book. The finished product is a lark, but it's also about as strange as you might imagine.
In combining action-hero drama, biographical back-story and history making market shakeups, the serious analysis of emerging market investing is largely lost in the shuffle, appearing only as a muddled flurry of tightly crammed thoughts when it does work its way into the narrative.
But we do learn a thing or two about the mysterious Mark Mobius - for instance, his multicultural upbringing (raised in Long Island, N.Y., by a German father and a Puerto Rican mother) and his diverse education (he studied art, journalism and psychology at various universities before earning a PhD in economics and political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
We also learn how his shaved pate came about. He singed his hair in a fire in his Hong Kong apartment, prompting a colleague to tell him of a Chinese superstition that bald men are destined for wealth.
And through it all, surprisingly, the basics of Mr. Mobius's investing philosophy does get hammered home: Emerging markets can be risky, but there are opportunities for high rewards if you understand the risks, do the legwork to identify undervalued opportunities, and diversify.
Those lessons seem particularly pertinent given the volatile markets this week, as the running debate about liquidity conditions and risk tolerance reawakened. Stock markets in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Jakarta and Seoul all tumbled by between 2.5 per cent and 4.3 per cent on Monday, only to rebound by 1.9 per cent to 4.1 per cent yesterday.
"You're going to have corrections along the way," he said. "I think you can expect that. But the general tone is rather upbeat in emerging markets."
He said that while valuations aren't as cheap as they were a couple of years ago, "they're not out of sight." Emerging markets are trading at about 13 times forward 12-month earnings estimates, a far cry from rich valuations as high as 25 times in previous peaks.
"There are still good opportunities in a number of areas."
He likes Brazil and South Africa, both of which are trading at P/Es below the average for emerging markets. He also still finds China attractive, noting that the country's A-shares - the shares that trade among mainland Chinese - still trade at "some hefty discounts."
What does he consider the biggest risk to emerging-market investing today? The developed economies.
"A big slowdown in the U.S. and Europe would have an impact on these markets, because of the export orientation of many of these countries," he said. "But we haven't seen that yet. And with the Fed lowering rates and pumping up the money supply, there's no reason to believe, at least at this stage, that you're going to see a significant slowdown."
Templeton Emerging Markets Fund
Assets: $856.7-million as of Sept. 30, 2007. (Canadian version)
|Common and Preferred Stock||%||Country|
|Petroleo Brasileiro SA, ADR||3.89%||Brazil|
|Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, ADR, A||3.76%||Brazil|
|Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd., H||2.77%||China|
|PetroChina Co. Ltd., H||2.69%||China|
|Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.||1.94%||South Korea|
|Banco Bradesco SA, ADR||1.66%||Brazil|
|Lukoil-Holdings, Reg D||1.64%||Russia|
|Remgro Ltd.||1.63%||South Africa|
SOURCE: FRANKLIN TEMPLETON
TRISH McALASTER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL