Apollo Asia Fund
What was new - 2020 archive

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2 Dec 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 10.2% in November, to US$ 2,268.83, as markets soared on vaccine exuberance; charts here.

24 Nov 20:
In another interesting appraisal of Malaysia's precarious situation, Dr Sukhdave Singh, a respected former deputy governor of Malaysia's central bank, warns that the country may regress instead of attaining the high-income status to which it once aspired.

22 Nov 20:

'Malaysia doesn't have an economy, it only has a political economy... We have extensive elements of a command economy and yet our posture is one of a capitalist free market one... Our system has evolved to become one run by a three headed monster - identity politics, money politics and power concentration. ... imagine 1) new institutional rearrangements to have an effective referee to political competition, 2) clear separation of business, government and politics, and 3) electoral reforms.'
Do read Nazir Razak's succinct and eloquent overview of the last few decades in Malaysia, and his hopes for a better future. This is a remarkable speech, important because of Nazir's professional standing and his challenging family situation as well as his views. The Star's choice of headline may be revealing of the national mood: 'Nazir Razak: There is still hope for Malaysia if it embarks on reforms'. The new brainstorming forum mentioned, www.mybetterfuture.org, has set out important issues for deliberation; time will tell if such initiatives can focus minds and influence decisionmakers.

3 Nov 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 1.0% in October, to US$ 2,058.40; charts here.

10 Oct 20:
A disparaging newspaper headline prompted me to record some of the achievements of AirAsia - and hopes for future national infrastructure decisions.

8 Oct 20:
The 3Q report notes that an investor's life is 'never dull'...

2 Oct 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares fell 1.0% in September, to US$ 2,037.86; charts here.

1 Sep 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 6.4% in August, to US$ 2,058.20; charts here.

7 Aug 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 4.5% in July, to US$ 1,934.77; charts here; apologies for late posting.

23 Jul 20:
The 2Q report, 'Change and adaptation', has been posted here. Since that mentions COVID-19, readers in the UK and US may be interested in a current view from Hong Kong, from the general medical practice OT&P, and in their timeline and links to COVID-19 info made available to the public since January.

1 Jul 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 2.1% in June, to US$ 1,852.05; charts here.

1 Jun 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 3.4% in May, to US$ 1,813.57, clawing back more of the ground lost in the first quarter plunge. Charts here.

8 May 20:
The 2019 report of income for UK Reporting Fund purposes for the Series A shares is here; the page listing all reports (starting 2013) is www.apolloinvestment.com/UKreportingfund.html.

4 May 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 9.2% in April, to US$ 1,753.66, clawing back part of the previous month's losses. Charts here.

29 Apr 20:
American press comment on the US COVID-19 death toll surpassing their own side's deaths in the Vietnam war mostly fails to note the Vietnamese experience - either its much higher wartime losses, or the apparent zero deaths during the pandemic. Richard Ehrlich reports on 'Why Vietnam won and US lost their Covid-19 wars'. David Webb discusses the possibility of a travel network of clean quarantined countries, after Hong Kong's apparent success at containment: 'COVID-19: where do we go from here?'

20 Apr 20:
My friend Shinya Deguchi of Star Magnolia Capital is requesting support for a graphic novel to disseminate accessible information about COVID-19: - especially in countries where the disease has yet to gain traction. It is based on a 'Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment', prepared in China to share experience gained there, and made available in many languages, along with other manuals, at https://gmcc.alibabadoctor.com/prevention-manual, on a site set up by the Jack Ma Foundation. For rationale, see 'Why are we creating the COVID-19 prevention & treatment graphic novel?' Shinya notes that 'some of the countries in South Asia, South America and Africa have not been severely affected by COVID-19, but it is better to be prepared for the potential outbreak. Thus, we are in a hurry to publish the remaining 4 episodes and translate the novel into as many languages as possible.' They welcome help to spread the word, and with translation.

The first episode (of five planned) is available in English here: 'One World, One Fight!' - and in an already-impressive range of languages on the Gen Z Group blog.

Meanwhile Elizabeth Pisani has written 'The Indonesian government forgot to buy medicines. Now what?', and some fascinating articles at the linked MedsWatch site. If you invest in the sector or may ever need a medicine, be sure to read 'The COVID pandemic increases the chance that your other medicines won't work'.

16 Apr 20:
The 1Q report has been posted here. The fund is reopening to some new investment. We'll be giving priority to existing shareholders, and to those queued in the past. If interested, in these changed circumstances, please contact us about your preferences before taking further action. NAV has risen by an estimated 8% month-to-date, with dramatic snapbacks for some shares which appeared to have fallen too far - so the valuations of which we wrote as at 23 and 31 March are no longer quite so low.

2 Apr 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares fell 14.8% in March, to US$1,606.03. Charts here.

23 Mar 20:
Market movements in March have been brutal. In the first twenty days, all of our currencies fell against the US$ (the worst being pounds sterling, Indonesian rupiah, and Australian dollars, all down by 9-11%), compounding the share price losses in each local currency. Only one of our holdings recorded a slight share price increase for the period (a convenience-store operator, doing well, and probably too illiquid for anyone to have tried to sell); all others were down even in local currency terms, and mostly by percentages well into double digits. Our three worst performers were down by between 45 and 67% in local-currency terms, from a starting point well below their highs; these three now represent only 2% of NAV (originally, of course, more). The shares of four more companies fell by about 30%. Overall, the fund's NAV at the close on Friday 20th March was estimated at US$1,570, down 16.7% month-to-date and 25.2% year-to-date.

This markdown is slightly worse than the regional index which we use to show overall market movements (MSEUCFFX, -16.0% and -22.0% respectively), but I believe that our companies overall will prove more resilient than average. The lack of performance differentiation is not uncommon in the initial phases of major sell-offs. Historically, we have sometimes been able to outperform subsequently, due to the resilience of our chosen companies, the steadiness of our investors, and the identification of new opportunities amidst the rubble. Current conditions are unprecedented in the careers of almost all living investors (even perhaps Charlie Munger, who was 21 years old at the end of World War II), so it remains to be seen if we are again lucky enough to achieve this.

The risks are many and various; long-term outlooks for many sectors (and all individual companies) must be reevaluated. However, the qualities of management integrity and competence, cash-generation, operational and balance sheet resilience will be more relevant than ever, and surviving companies may also see new opportunities. With the social, monetary and fiscal response in western economies uncharted, it now seems to me safer to invest in resilient businesses in Asia, where the COVID-19 outbreaks in several countries had appeared to be coming under control and medical authorities are on vigil to combat resurgence, than in balances with financial institutions in the rest of the world which is clearly no safer and where people and governments are less prepared. We claim no certainties, but will attempt to apply the disciplines which have worked for us in the past.

In January we reported that de-rating had reduced the PE of the portfolio to a current-year estimate of 10; the expected dividend yield was then 4.5%. Now we have no idea how to estimate current earnings, but those year-end figures will serve as guides to normalised valuation in the event that the current pandemic blows over within a few months: they imply a historic P/B of 1.1, with a PE of 8.4, and a dividend yield of 6.0%. These are not fully updated for subsequent announcements, and we'll do that in due course, but my impression has been that 2019 outcomes for our companies were for once slightly better than our subdued expectations. Precision would in any case now be spurious, given the new uncertainties, the likelihood of some permanent structural changes, and the pace of market movements. Today will show further market declines. Unwinding can feed on itself, as we saw with share price movements in previous crises; this time, even more businesses may fail to survive. However, for investors with staying power, including companies with strong balance sheets and struggling competitors, there are once again many potential bargains to be evaluated.

AIMS Asset Management has all personnel working from home under a Movement Control Order from the Malaysian government, currently declared for 18-31 March. The fund's custodian (Northern Trust) and administrator (Apex) have also been practising remote working and business continuity. On another turbulent day in the markets, we write with best wishes for the health and wellbeing of all our investors and readers.

3 Mar 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares fell another 5.1% in February, to US$1,884.59, again following a sharp decline in the last week of the month. Charts and updated comments on the long-term performance here.

3 Feb 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares fell 5.5% in January, to US$1,985.08, tumbling at the end of the month due to disruption by the virus known to some as WuFlu: charts.

24 Jan 20:
"An authoritarian-bureaucratic state that is unsuited and unfit to address public grievances and demands of the 21st century". Once the most popular destination in Asia for foreign direct investment, it was an excellent hunting ground for equity investors during the earlier years of the fund (admittedly after a crash). The former 'tiger cub' economies are not all ageing gracefully. Citizen confidence in this one is at a low ebb: 'Government's competence in question'.

17 Jan 20:
The 4Q report notes 'Strong business performance, masked by derating'.

10 Jan 20:
The FT has two excellent articles on sand mining, and the scale of this inadequately-recognised threat to Asian environments and to ecosystems on which very large populations (and our investments) depend:

Residents mourning the currently-disappearing hills and mountains will be aghast at projections of a further doubling in global demand for sand, gravel, and crushed rock. Proposals to mine limestone in international waters, and to ship the South Pacific's mountains to Asia's mega-reclamation projects over distances of up to 5,000km, should prompt a rethink of our economic models and priorities.

3 Jan 20:
The NAV of the Series A shares rose 1.7% in December, to US$2,099.66; charts.

Claire Barnes

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