YOUR MONEY: MANAGED FUNDS: Brave the risk and ride the tiger

Uncertainty remains, but the rewards can be huge. Ken Welsby assesses the merits of investing in the Pacific rim, a region that is rapidly overtaking the West
Go west, young man, was the advice to those seeking fame and fortune in the gold-rush days, but today the route to riches, or at least, high capital growth, nowadays increasingly leads in an easterly direction. The booming economies of South-east Asia and the Pacific rim offer countless opportunities for investors. However, many involve significantly greater risk than UK or European funds and financial advisers will generally recommend that you put only a small proportion of your capital into the Asian tiger economies.

But the rewards can be substantial. Unit trusts investing in the Far East, excluding Japan, have achieved, on average, the highest growth rates of any sector - 168.9 per cent over the past five years. Similar growth rates can be achieved with investment trusts, some of which have played a role in Far Eastern investment since the 1920s.

Note the words "excluding Japan" - and if you are considering adding Asian investments to your portfolio, forget them at your peril.

While economies and stock-markets in the Asia-Pacific region have generally soared, the Tokyo market, like the Japanese economy, has nose-dived on the back of a weak yen, low interest rates and high public spending.

Because the Japanese economy and those of the region's other economies perform in different ways, Far Eastern funds either invest "inc Japan" or "ex Japan". At present the "inc Japan" funds are languishing at the bottom of the league tables, although in a few years they will probably recover and once more find favour with investors. But not right now.

Although tiger funds are generally seen as risky, there is a contrary view that anyone who concentrates their portfolio exclusively in European or North American markets is being almost foolhardy.

That view is expressed forcibly by fund managers such as Garnett Harrison, whose Newport Capital funds specialise in the region.

"Let me worry you," he says. "Just look at some facts. The countries of the European Union have created no net private sector jobs since 1974. Gains in one industry, region or country have been matched by losses elsewhere. In the US, household debt now equals 84 per cent of the average household income - while America's largest company, General Motors, now pays more in pensions than wages."

He goes on to point out that people in Asian countries are prepared to work harder, save more, and place an increasing emphasis on education. Finally he points to the shift of global economic power, quoting a World Bank forecast that by 2000 the Chinese economy will be bigger than Western Europe's and by 2010 the Asia-Pacific region will surpass the economies of Europe and North America combined.

Although anxious to exploit the huge potential of China, Mr Harrison, like many other fund managers, makes comparatively few direct investments, preferring, instead, to back companies based in Hong Kong which do business with China.

"The legal framework is much more secure in Hong Kong and the business community is much more organised for investors," he says. "That won't change after July when the Chinese take over. "

His views were echoed by Seok Toh of Gartmore's highly rated Pacific Growth fund, who says that the new Hong Kong chief executive, the shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa, is very pro-business. China, she says, is a wary giant. "Hong Kong may appear minute against its elephantine neighbour, but it already provides more than two-thirds of all direct investment into the country. It was not surprising that the first Chinese chief executive came from the ranks of Hong Kong's tycoons"n

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