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Top mutual fund managers push emerging markets

A large construction project in Tianjin, China.
Zhang Peng / Contributor | LightRocket | Getty Images
A large construction project in Tianjin, China.

Emerging markets got plenty of love from top mutual fund managers at the Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago this past week.

"We are extremely enthused about what's happening in the emerging world today," David Herro, manager of the $31 billion Oakmark International Fund, said during a panel discussion before nearly 2,000 investment advisors and other attendees.

"As people move from lower class to middle class, middle class to upper class, the impact that has on global consumption and global economic growth," Herro said, citing China and India as examples. "Clearly what's happening in emerging markets in our view is very, very positive."

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Herro said he looks for companies with exposure to those growing consumption trends. His fund's top holdings include apparel and accessories group Kering; beverage company Diageo; and agricultural and construction equipment CNH Industrial.

Robert Lovelace, a portfolio manager for the American Funds, was another emerging markets bull.

"When you cut through it, you will find that there are companies in the developing world that are trading at multiples similar to the rest of the world. But there are quite a few that I think have been caught up in the negative sentiment where people are still looking at the country and doing country analysis and missing the fundamentals of the company," Lovelace said at the conference.

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China was part of the lovefest.

"The most interesting opportunities at the moment ... are really in and around this idea that there's a lot of misnomers associated with China's ultimate demise," said Justin Leverenz, portfolio manager of the $41 billion Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund. "China is the most durable growth story in the world ... there's nothing in the world like it."

Leverenz cited international luxury companies like Prada and spirits companies like Pernod Ricard that had been hurt by worries over slower Chinese growth but are actually poised to benefit.

Another China bull was Michael Hasenstab, who manages the $72 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund. He said that increased domestic consumption will help offset slowing government investment in the country.

Generally, Hasenstab said that China and other emerging markets would benefit from continued economic stimulus in Japan. The Japanese government's printing of money would provide relatively cheap access to capital in developing countries.

David Rolley, who co-manages the $2.4 billion Loomis Sayles Global Bond Fund, recommended select emerging market bonds.

He said he liked Mexican sovereigns because of the government's reform efforts. "They're going to fix it and you can get paid some yield and we don't think the currency is expensive," Rolley said.

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He generally said he like short maturity (three to five year) bonds from emerging market companies, including those rated BB or BBB. He said to look for "blue-chippy" companies "where you can understand what they do and they have a serious franchise."

"It's a place to get both spread and avoid the duration concern, which of course is the ghost in the night that every bond investors been worrying about wrongly for the last several years but we still have the same nightmare," Rolley added.

Rolley gave the example of Indian corporate bonds as a way to access the market, such as Bharti Airtel.

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