Focus on Asia – Extracting wealth and returns from Mongolia
If you were disappointed by your equities in 2011, you probably were not invested in Mongolia’s, which rose 15%. As the country prepares for elections, FMG’s Arild Johansen told Investment Europe why his firm has launched a fund focused on the country.
He says Mongolia’s resources make it a future commodity giant.
Some onlookers are already dubbing its capital ‘Ulan-Qatar’ in oblique reference to the Middle Eastern nation that enjoyed a stellar rise off the back of a commodities-fuelled boom in the 1990s.
As a frontier market, the Mongolian Stock Exchange (MSE) is largely insulated from global trends, and showed this in 2011 by rising by more than 15%.
The London Stock Exchange has been hired to help bring the MSE to the Londoner’s standard within three years. The LSE anticipates that the domestic stock market will increase from approximately $3bn to $45bn within 10 years.
“The stock market currently has shallow and sporadic trading,” says Arild Johansen, director of FMG’s Mongolia fund.
“Volumes are low and stocks can move dramatically. Stocks can be quite cumbersome to purchase. What we look at as the catalyst for Mongolia, is the work they are doing with the London Stock Exchange, working to improve free float and to delist companies that shouldn’t have been listed.”
In its economy, Mongolia’s wealth is in the ground.
The estimated mineral wealth in Mongolia’s 10 largest mines would make multi-millionaires out of every one of its 2.8m inhabitants, were it shared evenly.
The majority of the country’s mineral wealth remains unexplored, but it is still well placed to supply China, whose insatiable appetite for natural resources places it top of global commodities consumption tables.
This demand helped the tiny Mongolian stock market record the strongest growth worldwide in 2011, as Western rivals, and many other developing markets, lost value.
FMG’s recently launched $3m fund is intended to capitalise on the country’s booming economy and its close economic links to China. FMG hopes the fund will grow to up to $20m over the next few years.
Arild Johanson, director of the fund, said: “Growth will be led by mining exports, but you will continue to see local GDP firming up, which will lead to consumer stocks growing stronger. For example, two thirds of the population live in girs [locals’ tent accommodation], we see many of them moving into housing which will grow, for example, cement production.”
However, Mongolia’s mining sector has been hit by uncertainty in past months.
Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi, a huge mine upon one of the world’s largest deposits of coking coal, was expected to list in London, Hong Kong and Ulan Bator by this spring, but regulatory and political deadlock ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections, slated for June 28, have seen the listing pushed back by at least six months.
Meanwhile, in April, some licences were revoked, and legislation to restrict foreign mine ownership were drafted, after the Chinese State-run mining company Chalco moved to buy a controlling stake in South Gobi, one of Mongolia’s largest mineral exporters.
However Johansen believes that this political risk will not prove serious: “There is always tough talk before the election, but Mongolian politicians know that if they institute these laws, they will lose foreign investment. I don’t think they will institute laws that are so harsh that the Billitons and Ivanhoes of the world will not step in.”
Although the mineral wealth of Mongolia is beyond doubt, it will have some way to go before it can boast the consumer and financial markets of the Middle Eastern commodity players.
“I would say that it is Mongolia is really for the investor has a good time horizon for their money, and can accept a good degree of volatility,” says Johansen. “Given low liquidity, we buy our names and hold them for the foreseeable future.”