At 81, emerging markets pioneer Mark Mobius is retiring

Mobius headed one of the first emerging-market equity funds available to U.S. customers

Jan 8, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

By Bloomberg News

Veteran investor Mark Mobius, the bald-headed market guru who became one of the most recognized authorities on money-making opportunities in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, plans to retire from Franklin Templeton Investments after three decades at the firm.

The company announced his retirement, effective Jan. 31.

After accepting a job offer from money manager John Templeton in 1987, Mobius headed one of the first emerging-market equity funds available to U.S. customers. With a long-time base in Singapore, he traveled about 250 days a year in a Gulfstream IV private jet, visiting factories and distributors in remote corners of the globe to identify investment opportunities.

"There is no single individual who is more synonymous with emerging-markets investing than Mark Mobius," Templeton Chairman and CEO Greg Johnson said in a statement Friday.

'Not Very Complicated'

Mobius, 81, who said he kept most of his own money in Templeton funds, made prescient calls on major market movements. He correctly predicted the start of a bull market that began in 2009, snapped up bargains during the Asian financial crisis after Thailand floated its currency in 1997, and bought Russian stocks as panic selling took hold in Russia in 1998. He was also one of the first institutional investors to identify Africa as a promising frontier market, setting up the Templeton Africa Fund in 2012.

"My idea of a bargain is, by the way, not very complicated," he wrote in "Passport to Profits," his 1999 book. "I buy stocks in companies with good growth potential over a five-year period."

Born in Hempstead, New York to a German father and Puerto Rican mother, Mobius grew up on Long Island speaking German and Spanish at home. In 1955, he won a scholarship to study at Boston University and worked as a pianist at a nightclub to help pay for his tuition. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and a master's in communications before completing a doctorate in economics and political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Yul Brynner Hairstyle

After working as a political consultant, Mobius traveled to Hong Kong for the first time in 1967 and became a market researcher for Monsanto Overseas Enterprises Co., testing a new high-protein drink. He then started his own research business, branching into securities analysis. His Yul Brynner hairstyle, as he described it, was conceived at this time after a fire in his apartment damaged his hair and he shaved the rest off, according to Mobius's 1997 illustrated memoir.

Prior to joining Templeton, Mobius worked as a director at Vickers, da Costa, a U.K. stock brokerage, in the early 1980s and became president of Mega International Investment Trust in Taiwan in 1983. At age 50, he received a phone call from John Templeton, a pioneer in emerging-markets investing.

"This is my chance," he wrote in his biography. "My education, knowledge, research and experience have prepared me for this great opportunity."

After losing a third of his fund's value in the October 1987 stock-market crash during his first year at Templeton, Mobius decided to diversify his holdings from just five Asian countries to emerging markets such as Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia and Russia.

On the Ground

"When he started, there was no Internet and you could barely make a phone call," said Michael Rosen, chief investment officer at Angeles Investment Advisors in Santa Monica, California. "People on the ground had a distinctive advantage."

As technological advancements gave rise to new investment strategies, Mobius's performance began to taper, according to Russel Kinnel, director of manager research at Morningstar in Chicago. The Templeton Developing Markets Trust, which he co-managed from 1991 to 2017, trailed 80 percent of its peers over the past 15 years, Morningstar data show.

"He was a missionary for the whole concept of emerging markets, not just for his company," said Dan Fuss, 84, a longtime bond manager at Loomis Sayles & Co. "When he started, it was seen as a high-risk, exciting and off-the-wall."

Mobius published more than 10 books on investing and economics, including "The Investor's Guide to Emerging Markets" (1994). In 1999, he was chosen to serve on the World Bank's Global Corporate Governance Forum as a co-chairman of its investor-responsibility task force. Eight years later, a Japanese publisher glorified his globe-trotting exploits with a manga-style comic book, chronicling the "Bald Eagle." Bloomberg Markets Magazine recognized Mobius as one of its 50 most influential people in 2011.

"Though some people probably pity me for having no home, no family, no domestic life to speak of, my somewhat eccentric lifestyle offers untold opportunities for variety, stimulation and creativity," he said in his 1999 book.

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