Amid all the hype surrounding U.S. interest rates, finance veterans at the Milken Institute's Asia Summit reminded investors not to ignore profitable themes in high-growth emerging regions.
"The key is to try and see the future...A U.S. interest rate increase of 25 or even 50 basis points doesn't make any difference," noted Michael Milken, the former junk-bond king who is chairman of the institute that bears his name.
What does make a difference is education, skills for the future, and jobs of the future, said the man who is considered one Wall Street's most successful come-back stories after his 1990 conviction for securities fraud.
Such comments aren't the norm at finance conferences but then again, the Milken Institute's annual affair isn't just your typical convention. The summit is geared towards human capital and how financial markets can address urgent social and economic problems.
"The growing middle class in Asia is one of the dominant stories of the world, and the youth and rising population of sub-Saharan Africa will be the next major global change over the next few decades," Milken said.
Medical research and public health have been two of the primary drivers of global growth but sub-Saharan Africa has yet to benefit from that, he added. Pointing to Southeast Asia's booming retail market as an example, he explained how health improvements helped the region increase life expectancy by nearly 70 percent in two generations.
"If you're living longer, healthier lives, ultimately you will become a consumer," he said, suggesting that medical advancements could do the same for Africa.
Indeed, a Pew Research Center survey on Thursday indicated that the majority of Sub-Saharan countries surveyed identified improving health care as their number one priority.
"Africa is an area of opportunity for asset managers like ourselves to engage in as those capital markets develop,' echoed Thomas Finke, chairman and CEO of Babson Capital Management.
Finke, who says he "doesn't take [U.S] rate bets," is looking at investing in African infrastructure, private equity, as well as sovereigns and corporates.
The Federal Reserve's decision is undoubtedly relevant for emerging markets (EMs) but the sector can still remain attractive in the face of higher interest rates, experts said.
"Our clients are now looking for opportunities in EMs, albeit very selectively," noted Sheila Patel, CEO of International at Goldman Sachs Asset Management. "They look for drivers in each economy."
She said her clients were interested in the movement of manufacturing out of China into Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, despite the latter two being named the most vulnerable to a U.S. rate hike.
Internet and e-commerce plays are another major theme of interest, she noted.
"If you look at Chinese e-commerce and the billions of transactions that go on every year and similar companies in India, Southeast Asia, it's in the millions," Patel said. "Clients see the huge opportunity in that and that's the type of thing they want to invest in."