NEW DELHI: Did you know Escorts Income Bond, an Indian mutual fund program, had the best individual performance in Asia in 2002 with a scorching return of 102.8%? Its performance is all the more amazing given that the Sensex only managed a meager 4% rise in 2002. The October 1996-launched Escorts program makes moderately risky investments in a well-diversified portfolio of fixed income assets. According to data from Lipper, a fund tracking company, out of 15 geographic sectors in Asia, India-focused funds have performed impressively, placing third among the other Asian funds with a return of 13.9%. It also has a limited exposure to equity and money market instruments. With an average gain of 37.9% in 2002, Indonesia provided the best returns for mutual fund investors in Asia, followed by funds investing in Thailand, which provided year-over-year returns of 19.7%. Now that Indian funds are permitted to invest in foreign stocks and bonds, investors may well insist that their fund managers concentrate on Indonesia and Thailand. However, before you go all in on Indonesia, read what the experts have to say. It will be challenging to repeat Indonesia’s performance in 2003, according to a foreign fund manager: “Indonesia was a surprise in 2002. It (the Indonesian market) was coming from a low base and assets were cheap.” According to foreign analysts, funds investing in India were among those who are likely to outperform in 2003. Foreign funds have been increasing their exposure to the local market recently, according to the report, drawn by the low valuation of Indian equities and their high growth potential. “Its growth profile remains intact, returns are healthy, and valuation is still one of the most compelling in the region,” Merrill Lynch said in a recent research note. India had the potential to succeed with Thailand, South Korea, and Hong Kong-listed Chinese companies. In contrast, Philippine-focused funds had the worst year-over-year performance in the area, suffering the most sectoral losses of 18.8%. Next on this list, with a loss of 13.5% in 2002, were investments made in Taiwan. Only six of the 15 sectors, including Indonesia, Thailand, India, South Korea, Malaysia, and funds investing in Asean (the Association of South East Asian Nations), provided mutual fund investors with positive returns in 2002, according to Lipper data. Regionally speaking, funds that invested in Asia other than Japan lost 5.9% on average in 2002.
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