Globe-Trotter World Travel Keeps Fund Manager Abreast of Emerging Markets

Article excerpt

Got a yearning to see the world? Then become a diplomat, a sea captain - or the portfolio manager of an "emerging markets" mutual fund.

Just ask Michael Hoffman, who at age 31 runs the new Robertson Stephens Emerging Markets Fund from its headquarters in San Francisco or, more often, from a seat on an airplane bound for Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe or South America.

That makes him a member of a small but growing breed of globe-trotting investment specialists. They're products of the surging popularity of international mutual funds, and they are quickly dispelling the image of money management as a 9-to-5 desk job.

"I'd say about a week a month is when I expect to see my office," Hoffman said on a recent visit to New York.

Many international investment managers spend a lot of time checking out companies and economic conditions in foreign financial capitals such as Tokyo, London and Paris.

But an emerging markets specialist like Hoffman usually skips those staid locations in favor of places like Thailand, Turkey, Poland and Peru.

On one of several trips to South America in recent months, Hoffman picked up a parasite that has been "rather difficult to get rid of," he says.

He also acknowledges that his profession probably is best suited to a young person without a spouse and children. "I don't think I would succeed at this point in having a family," he says.

But Hoffman also extols the benefits of such a life, which he first discovered while at the University of South Carolina getting a graduate degree in international business, and later as emerging markets portfolio manager at Cigna International Investment Advisers.

"Once I got a taste for the international travel, I haven't looked back," he says.

"You encounter many different cultures, different customs, different standards. I personally find it all fascinating."

The idea of international investing is simply to expand your horizons beyond opportunities in the United States, which some view as a mature economy after several centuries of development.

Emerging markets, which offer some of the wildest and wooliest places anywhere to put your money, attract investors looking for the fastest growth rates of all - perhaps double the pace in the developed world.

But the risks can run high as well, operating in environments where the political climate may be unstable, the accounting standards highly variable, and the formal markets for trading stocks rudimentary at best. …