Public Mutual Bhd took home four awards at the Morningstar Malaysia Fund Awards 2020, namely Best Asia-Pacific Equity Fund, Best Malaysia Large-Cap Equity Fund, Best Malaysia Bond Fund and Best Malaysia Bond (Syariah) Fund.
Smart Investor met up with Public Mutual chief executive officer Yeoh Kim Hong to discuss the out-performance of its winning mutual funds, risks in the market risk, and the technologies the fund house has adopted to make its business more appealing and
efficient to investors.
Smart Investor: Congratulations on your win! Public Mutual won four awards this year. What are the key factors behind the winning funds’ successful performance?
Yeoh Kim Hong: Despite volatile market conditions in 2019, our winning funds continued to adopt a fundamental approach to investing by selecting stocks and bond/sukuk which have sustained earnings, strong financial positions and proven management track records.
Public Far-East Alpha-30 Fund (PFA30F), which is a regional equity fund that invests in a concentrated portfolio of a maximum of 30 stocks, won in the Best Asia-Pacific Equity Fund category. In 2019, the fund generated a return of +19.9% to outperform the regional equity markets, as proxied by the MSCI All Country Far East ex-Japan Index, which rose by 15.2% (in ringgit terms).
The fund’s performance was driven mainly by the out-performance of regional technology stocks which are leveraged to the increasing adoption of digital products and services globally, as well as the secular growth trends in online financial and e-commerce services.
The second equity award achieved is for the Best Malaysia Large-Cap Equity Fund category. Public Strategic Growth Fund (PSTGF), which focuses its investments on growth stocks in the Malaysian market, achieved a return of +4.3% in 2019. In comparison, the FBM KLCI, which tracks the performance of the domestic equity market, declined by 6%.
Despite challenging market conditions, the fund was able to achieve a commendable performance, as it focused on fundamentally-strong companies within the consumer, healthcare and technology sectors. These stocks benefitted from sustained consumer spending as well as the trade diversion arising from the US-China trade tensions.
Public Enterprises Bond Fund (PENTBF), which invests mainly in ringgit-denominated bonds, won the Best Malaysia Bond Fund category. In 2019, the fund achieved a return of +8.2% due to its focus on long-duration bonds with sound credit fundamentals, primarily in the infrastructure and banking sectors. Bonds in these two sectors saw strong buying interest on the back of easing monetary policies globally, which contributed to the fund’s strong performance.
The second bond award achieved is for the Best Malaysia Bond (Syariah) Fund category. PB Aiman Sukuk Fund (PBASF), which mainly invests in ringgit-denominated sukuk, registered a return of +9% in 2019.
The fund’s strong performance was due to its focus on long-duration sukuk with sound credit fundamentals, especially in the infrastructure and banking sectors. The fund also benefitted from its sukuk holdings issued by the Malaysian government, which performed strongly in 2019 as sukuk yields compressed.
Moving forward, how can your bond funds outperform in a volatile yet increasingly low-yield environment?
The low global interest rate environment as well as the accommodative domestic monetary policy is anticipated to underpin the domestic bond/sukuk market in 2020. Our bond/sukuk funds will continue to seek investment opportunities in bonds/sukuk with strong credit fundamentals while adopting an active portfolio rebalancing approach and maintaining reasonable portfolio yields to ride through periods of volatility in the domestic bond/sukuk market.
How will market risks like the US-China trade war, geopolitical tensions, and Covid-19 outbreak impact your investment decisions moving forward? What are some of the under-reported risks that could surface this year?
In light of the uncertainties pertaining to the US-China trade relations, our investments in sectors deemed to be susceptible to increased trade tariffs or restrictions have been reduced. In addition, our funds have largely avoided tourism-related sectors which are directly impacted by the slowdown in travel activities amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
Other uncertainties include the upcoming US presidential election in November 2020, the Brexit negotiations as well as the sharp fall in oil prices following the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) move to hike oil production despite weak global demand.
However, accommodative monetary policies by major central banks and various fiscal stimulus measures by global and regional governments should help lend support to global economic activities. The volatility in financial markets will provide opportunities for our equity funds to add to their positions in fundamentally-backed stocks with positive long-term growth prospects.
Meanwhile, there could be volatility within the domestic bond/sukuk market in the run-up to September 2020 when FTSE Russell is anticipated to announce its decision on the retention of Malaysian bonds in the FTSE World Government Bond Index (WGBI).
To navigate such market uncertainty, our bond/sukuk funds will continue to focus on high-quality bond/sukuk issuances and rebalance the funds’ portfolio duration accordingly. Our focus on fundamental research and long-term investment strategies should help both our equity and bond/sukuk funds to ride through market cycles as well as through periods of elevated market volatility.
What measures or strategies has Public Mutual put in place to deal with these market risks?
In addition to the aforementioned measures, we will continue to be vigilant to developments within the economic and financial markets so as to proactively manage the exposure of our investments to these risks.
In this respect, we believe our adherence to fundamental research and long-term investment strategies will serve us well in delivering consistent returns to our unitholders over the long term.
With Malaysia gravitating towards a digital economy, what are some advanced technology that Public Mutual has adopted to make its business more appealing and efficient?
Among our technological offerings for investors is a dedicated online investment platform, Public Mutual Online (PMO), which provides them with easy access to our products and services on a 24/7 basis. Its key features include a Fund Analytics feature that allows investors to easily review the different features and performance of our available funds.
Meanwhile, our PMO landing page allows investors convenient access to stock market performance data and fund reviews, as well as a quick overview of their portfolio holdings.
We also recently revamped our website with improved functionality as well as enhanced user navigation. Investors can now use the website to explore funds, view fund performance and discover the right funds for their investment needs. It also allows investors to conveniently access articles on the financial markets and financial planning.
New investors can use the Digital Onboarding facility to sign up without need for physical documents, while existing investors can leverage on other facilities to top up their investments and register for the Direct Debit Authorisation (DDA) facility within a few clicks.
We have also designed several digital tools as part of our efforts to facilitate our unit trust consultants (UTCs) in servicing investors. For instance, the CAMS software allows UTCs to present to investors their investment account details including returns.
Meanwhile, the U@Bis$ app allows UTCs to guide investors in answering a risk-profiling questionnaire, before subsequently building a unit trust portfolio based on the recommended allocation.
By Bernie Yeo
Please click here to read the full article in the digital edition of Smart Investor (April 2020 issue).