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Singapore’s Temasek takes it on the chin

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
Temasek: Singapore, China weighed on returns

Despite last year's global stock market rally, Temasek Holdings, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, generated a shareholder return of just 1.5 percent for the 12 months ended March 31, hurt by its focus on Singapore and China.

"It's nothing to do the dance of joy over, but it's still squeezing a positive TSR (total shareholder return)" despite "paper losses" on its equity holdings," said Song Seng Wun, head of research at CIMB. "On the plus side, hopefully, is that the new net investment will help future earnings," he said, but added he expects it will take a while for the China rebalancing story to play out.

The sovereign wealth fund's TSR was down from 8.9 percent in the previous year. That compares with the 10-year average return of 9 percent and 16 percent since the fund's inception since 1974. The portfolio size rose 3.7 percent to a record 223 billion Singapore dollars ($179 billion) in the period.

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By the end of the financial year, Temasek's largest geographical exposures were Singapore and China, at 31 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Stock markets were down in both countries over the reporting period, although they've since posted modest recoveries.

Singapore's STI index shed around 4 percent over the fiscal year, while Hong Kong's HSCEI, or Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, fell more than 7 percent, compared with the S&P 500's more than 18 percent gain over the same period.

Singapore city skyline
Sam Kang Li | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Our portfolio is anchored in Asia. A large portion of our portfolio is in Singapore and related to China," noted Rohit Sipahimalani, co-head of the investment group.

SingTel remains the fund's largest single-name holding at 13 percent of its portfolio, followed byChina Construction Bank and DBS Group at 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

"In the very near term, there clearly are headwinds [in China]. There's tightening credit, there is a real-estate slowdown," Sipahimalani told CNBC.

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"A lot of people don't see immediate catalysts in the next quarter or two," he said, highlighting that Temasek is a long-term investor. "We think this gives us an opportunity to actually invest at a time when valuations are depressed in companies that we believe will give us sustainable long-term returns," he added. "A lot of the investments we made in the last year were in some of those sectors that we think will be direct beneficiaries of reform in China."

The fund, headed by Ho Ching, the wife of the country's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, increased its net investments by 14 billion Singapore dollars.

Europe and North America accounted for 40 percent of the fund's new investments, with underlying exposure to North America and Europe rising to 14 percent of the portfolio, up from 12 percent in the previous year.

— By's Leslie Shaffer. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1