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Where Would You Invest $100 Billion?

Monday, 14 Dec 2009 | 1:25 PM ET

One of the prominent themes among investors right now is the increasing belief that you need to look outside the U.S. for opportunities in faster-growing emerging markets.

A significant chunk of that growth is occurring in Asia, and I recently made my first visit to one of Asia’s most important destinations: the tiny nation of Singapore.

I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is the deputy chairman and executive director of the Singapore Investment Corporation. He essentially runs the country’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF).

I was in Dr. Tan’s office when his secretary said to me, “Maria, if there is one picture of the global economy, this is it.”

She took me to the window and showed me the world’s busiest dry shipping port. All sorts of goods that are made in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and all over south and southeast Asia pass through this port on their way to other parts of the world.

It was a spectacular view, in more ways than one.

“Two years ago, you couldn’t even see any spaces between all of the shipping containers,” the secretary said. “Today, there are many spaces.”

That picture said it all.

Fortunately, the global economy has stabilized in 2009 and growth has returned in many places (including slight growth in Singapore) while continuing to lag in others (especially Europe). How the recovery proceeds will, of course, be one of the key questions for 2010.

'You Can Always Count on the Americans'

The view out the window was just one of the fascinating insights from my meeting with Dr. Tan. As head of Singapore’s SWF, he is responsible for investing $100 billion that the government holds in currency reserves — one of the largest Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world. I was impressed with him and he struck me as a very astute investor.

Dr. Tan was quite optimistic, more than I expected him to be, especially regarding America.

I had to laugh when he quoted Winston Churchill as one of the reasons he’s optimistic about America in particular: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

That is why he is investing nearly half of the SWF’s money in America. That’s right. Even with all of the burgeoning markets in Asia and the idea of investing globally, he still has 45 percent of the SWF’s money in the U.S., and he told me that he is looking to buy financial services companies.

And he isn’t the only one looking at financial companies. Other investors I speak with also see opportunity in select stocks. (In our Wall Street newsletter, three of our elite pros have recommended a financial stock. You can find out more here.)

Investing nearly half of his $100 billion fund in U.S. companies shows Dr. Tan is clearly bullish on the U.S. as we enter 2010.

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