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Fund manager Anthony Bolton succumbs to Chinese whispers

Don't panic over fund manager exit, say experts, but do think again about China investments

Legendary fund manager Anthony Bolton this week revealed that he will finally retire next April.

The 63-year-old will step down as head of the Fidelity China Special Situations after three years trying and failing to turn a profit from the world's fastest-growing economy.

What does it signal to investors, both those with holdings in his fund or in the Chinese sector?

The China fund lost a third of its value in its first year in 2010 and is still showing big losses. Meanwhile, the invest trust's share price has fallen by 10.4 per cent since its launch.

Last year, Mr Bolton told The Independent: "I didn't expect the market to be as bad as it was. The volatility in the Hong Kong market was as bad as anything I've seen in my career."

But he added: "I still strongly believe that at some stage over the next few years China will be the place to be." But if his fund does recover, Mr Bolton won't be a part of it.

This week he said in an interview: "It would be lovely to go out in a blaze of glory and everyone having made money and, obviously, I'm as disappointed as anyone that the fund hasn't done well."

Probably not as disappointed as the many thousands of small investors who rushed to back him in 2010 based on his exemplary record in charge of the Fidelity Special Situations fund, where he achieved growth of 20 per cent a year for 28 years until December 2007.

There could be a lesson there about not following fund managers, but does Mr Bolton's exit mean investors should rush to follow?

"I see no reason for existing investors to panic, particularly as the trust is already trading at a discount and redeeming their shares now will lock in any losses," says Darius McDermott of Chelsea Financial Services.

"Better, I think, to digest the news properly, make an informed decision in the coming months and, for those investing for the China story rather than simply because Anthony is running the money, give the new manager the benefit of the doubt in the new year."

The man taking over from Mr Bolton is Dale Nicholls, who has successfully managed the Fidelity Funds Pacific Fund since September 2003, returning 154 per cent compared to an index return of 117 per cent. In theory he is the right man to steer the fund in the years ahead, but until we know more about his plans, most experts are reserving judgement.

But what about the investment prospects for China?

Didier Rabattu, manager of Lombard Odier Investment Managers Emerging Consumer fund has just increased the fund's exposure there. Why?

"Investors can't afford to ignore China," he believes. "In population terms, it is as big as Europe and North America put together, and that population is young, growing quickly and increasingly wealthy. We have increased allocation to China since equities are starting to look good value again."

But Patrick Connolly of Chase de Vere is less positive. "There is huge investment potential in China as, despite a slowdown in economic growth, it continues to go from strength to strength," he says. "However, any growth will continue to be coupled with high levels of risk and volatility, so investors need to think carefully about how to invest in the region."