Japan’s Hidden Opportunities

Terry Flanagan

One fund manager takes a contrarian view on the world’s most dismissed developed market.

Tainted by a 1990s “lost decade” of deflation, slow economic growth, plummeting asset classes, Japan has been a castaway zone for many investors, reignited perhaps by the Earthquake that struck last March.

For David Baran, co-CEO of Symphony Financial Partners, Japan provides a wealth of opportunities, and undervalues companies who practice very sound corporate governance is simply “being given away.”

“The idea that Japan is a no growth, negative growth, or low growth country is a misnomer,” Baran said. “There are oodles of Japanese companies that are helping to fuel the engines of growth in Asia, with great top lines, no debt, and EV/EBITDA (enterprise value/earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of zero.”

Symphony Financial Partners has north of 200 million under management, and has a variety of funds focused on Asia. Baran also advises the SFP Value Realization Fund, a deep value, but trading oriented fund that looks for hidden opportunities in Japan, and Japanese companies that have expanded into growing parts of emerging Asia. For Baran, the process is not unlike distressed investing.

In Asia, China is undoubtedly the growth hegemon for many investors. Yet, Baran noted that poor due diligence on the country’s unscrupulous business practices can be troublesome.

“Poor governance in China hasn’t deterred investments to their detriment. There are companies that trade 100 times earnings, at lofty evaluations there, but a lot of investors are enamored with its growth story,” Baran told Markets Media. “Growth is one just being long beta,” noting “growth” refers to one out of many investment methodologies.

Baran also manages Symphony’s pan-Asia multi-strategy fund, Sinfonietta. The fund has north of 21 million, and returned 27.65 percent year-to-date as of September 30, 2011. It has outperformed the Eureka Asian Hedge Fund Index and has outpaced the Dow Jones Credit Suisse Core Hedge Fund Index during the same period.

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