Asian Elation!

Pacific Asian funds have turned the corner

If stock markets along the Pacific Coast of Asia are any indication, the region’s economies have come back from their mid-90s demise with a vengeance. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index measuring that region’s stocks was up 30% by mid-October. Stock markets in Indonesia, Malaysia, and India were up 51%, 63%, and 21%, respectively. South Korea rose 23% during the same time period.

That kind of lift has done wonders for mutual funds that invest in the area. According to Morningstar, the Chicago fund data company, portfolios investing in Pacific Rim nations outside of Japan were up an average 30.6% at the end of September 2003.

Reforms to currencies, banks, and corporate governance have helped economies in the Asia Pacific region average a 4.4% annual growth rate over the past 20 years, more than 30% above the 3.2% average of the United States’ economy.

Even though there’s good news, the region is still volatile. Besides the economic crisis of 1997, the region endured the SARS virus in early 2003, there is the belligerent North Korean government, and additional concerns stemming from the U.S. war in Iraq. Morningstar analyst William Samuel Rocco says there is still good reason to invest in the region, provided you have a sound base in domestic funds and a good foothold in an all-purpose international portfolio. Rocco recommends that you place no more than 10% of your overall assets in a Pacific Asian fund. “For most people, these shouldn’t be core foreign holdings,” he says. “They make sense as a second international fund, one with a good amount of spice and the potential for some ‘pop’ over the long-term.”

We screened Morningstar’s database looking for funds with diversified holdings that spread their assets to many nations in the region. We also looked for the best portfolios over the three-year period that ended Sept. 30, 2003 to get the best gauge of a fund’s performance over both rough and easy periods.

The fund atop our chart was the Matthews Asian Growth & Income Fund. Management at the San Francisco fund have built a relatively conservative portfolio with modestly valued shares, and companies that pay secure dividends and include convertible bonds. At the end of the third quarter, it had a 15.9% average annual total return. Its sibling, the Matthews Pacific Tiger Fund, is a bit zestier, taking a stake in smaller companies and markets with more pop, such as Indonesia. It finished third on our ranking with a 5.3% average annual total return over the last three years.
Top 6 Asian-focused Mutual Funds

Fund Name (Ticker) 1-Year
Return
3-Year
Return
5-Year
Return
Minimum
Initial Purchase
Toll-Free
Number
Matthews Asian Gr & Inc (MACSX) 25.87% 15.90% 22.30% $2,500 800-789-2742
Eaton Vance Asian SmCo A (EVASX) 49.22% 13.45% NA $1,000 800-225-6265
Matthews Pacific Tiger (MAPTX) 49.16% 5.31% 22.44% $2,500 800-789-2742
Guinness Atkinson Asia Fo (IASMX) 36.21% 5.18% 7.18% $2,500 800-915-6566
Fidelity Southeast Asia (FSEAX) 32.47% -0.82% 13.29% $2,500 800-544-8888
T. Rowe Price New Asia (PRASX) 37.78% -1.51% 12.17% $2,500 800-638-5660
PACIFIC ASIA EX JAPAN FUNDS,

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