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Mark Mobius: Investment Strategy for Eastern Europe

Sunday, 25 Sep 2011 | 8:19 PM ET

Central and Eastern Europe is still a place where investors can make money but they have to choose their sectors and stocks carefully, emerging markets specialist investor Mark Mobius, the president of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, told CNBC.com in an interview.

Templeton Emerging Markets Group has a portfolio in the region in which resource-rich Russia weighs 36 percent, fast-growing Turkey 21 percent and Austria, which has companies with a big presence in the region, makes up 17 percent.

Markl Mobius, Executive Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets
Ron Mcmillan | Getty Images North America | Getty Images
Markl Mobius, Executive Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets

"In Central and Eastern Europe, stock markets have not done too badly… however the growth rates are relatively low," Mobius said.

"In the sense of the macro picture is not that exciting but on an individual company basis we find some opportunity because valuations have come down quite a lot," he added.

The region is heavily exposed to swings in demand in the richest European Union members, with Germany its main export market.

Countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have recently had their growth outlook cut by various analysts. Mobius said his fund was going to stick to its investment strategy.

"We will probably continue to hold those weightings in Russia, Turkey and Austria," he said.

"Basically our breakdown in terms of the sectors and countries and so forth is fairly heavy-weight in banks, energy," Mobius said. "That's mainly because of what we have in Russia: banks like Sberbank, oil and gas companies like Gazprom."

Other sectors the fund has shares in are food, beverage and tobacco, media, pharmaceuticals and real estate.

Some of the Austrian companies "have incredible scope in Eastern Europe," Mobius said, citing the example of banks like Erste Bank and Raiffeisen.

"You got these large organizations that are a good way to get exposure to a lot of these countries," said Mobius.

Not Enough Growth

Next in line is Hungary, Mobius said, where the fund has invested in companies such as OTP Bank and pharmaceutical company Egis.

In 2009, Central and Eastern European currencies depreciated sharply following a stampede to the exit by foreign investors, sparking fears of a collapse. But now foreign exchange reserves "have picked up quite nicely," Mobius said, which is important because "we want to make sure we can take money out as well as in."

However, the macroeconomic picture doesn't look as good as in other parts, he added.

"Not enough growth [in Central and Eastern Europe]," Mobius said. "That's where the problem comes, that's why we're tending to have more [investment] in Russia and Turkey."

"In these [CEE] countries we need to identify companies that can produce value added," Mobius explained.

In Poland, the natural resources area is the most attractive, he said. "Copper, coal, that's interesting for us and some of the consumer services, restaurants, fast food restaurants."

In the Czech Republic, Mobius likes companies that produce materials for consumer goods while in Slovakia, which doesn't have firms big enough for the fund to invest in, the private equity area of the fund invested in a company that does mail order sales.

"More recently we've been doing a lot more in Romania. We will do more and more there," Mobius said.

In Romania, Franklin Templeton is the manager of Fondul Proprietatea, a listed fund with assets of over 3.5 billion euros ($4.7 billion) set up to reimburse victims of the former communist regime whose nationalized properties cannot be returned.

Eastern Europe - A CNBC Special Report
Eastern Europe - A CNBC Special Report

The debt crisis currently sweeping the euro zone is a concern but Mobius does not think the whole European Union will be in trouble.

"I think they will come together on this. I don't think it's going to be the big disaster that people think it is," he said. "If Greece gets its act together and they start privatizing, they should pull through."

"To talk about the end of the euro… I just don't see it, I don't think that's on the cards at all. At the end of the day the euro and the EU are a big success," Mobius added.

Disclaimer: Templeton Emerging Markets Group, which Mark Mobius is heading, owns the stocks mentioned in this story.