Crash turns up bargains

The slide on world stock markets may leave rich pickings for investors

Investors prepared to take a risk on companies exposed to Asia's current economic turmoil may find some rich pickings after the month-long slide in global stock markets.

Top of some fund managers' list are shares in Rio Tinto, the world's largest mining company, which have dropped 22 per cent this month. Bank shares are also thought to offer good value.

"We wouldn't go too far into economically sensitive stocks, but we regard Rio Tinto as an exception. Unless you believe that there's going to be a global meltdown, we think you should be buying," said Nigel Cobby, director at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

Stock markets around the world plunged this month because of currency problems in Asia, clobbering companies that make a lot of their profits abroad. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong is down 26 per cent with other Asian markets matching its losses. The US Dow Jones Index is down about 6 per cent during the past 30 days, while the FT-SE 100 Index has lost about 4.5 per cent.

Rio Tinto, which has about 40 per cent of its sales in Asia, was the second-biggest faller last week on the FT-SE 100. Only EMI Group, the music company, saw bigger losses.

Some investors think the company, which operates on every continent, is in a strong position to cope with any slackening in demand from Asia caused by the recent financial crisis.

"Rio Tinto keeps it simple and goes for the lowest cost and biggest assets," said Graham French, at M&G Investment Management. "You can buy it and just not worry about it. You know it will remain the number one mining company in the world."

"I bought some Rio shares this week because I thought they were very oversold," said Job Curtis, at Henderson Investors. "It's a very well managed company."

Most analysts think there will be further falls at HSBC Holding, Britain's largest bank and the parent of HongKong Bank. Even so, other banking stocks may have dropped too far given the expectations of further mergers and acquisitions, and soaring bond prices.

"Clearly banks look oversold," said Tony Hardy, an investment manager at the Church Commissioners. "That's the problem with major stocks - they tend to get more seriously hit than they should."

Mr Hardy said he has been buying bank stocks this week.

There was talk that Standard Chartered, one of the stocks to take a pounding this week because of its extensive interests in Asia, could rise on bid speculation. The bank has seen its share price decline by about 35 per cent during the last three months, leaving it more vulnerable to a predator.

Financial institutions may also benefit from the rise in bond prices, which increase the value of banks' large investment portfolios. Bonds rose as investors fled stock markets, with the yield on the benchmark 10-year UK bond falling to 6.56 per cent on Friday from 7.02 per cent on 1 September.

Buying bank shares is not for the faint-hearted. Some analysts think banks' possible losses on the currency and stock markets make their shares hazardous. "We would be most nervous about financials. Who knows what risks they have," said Mr Cobby.

Domestic companies are usually the favourite bet in times of stock market turmoil.

Copyright: IOS & Bloomberg

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