Best In Class  

Best in Class: Baillie Gifford Japanese fund

Best in Class: Baillie Gifford Japanese fund

This week marks the start of a special 12 months in the sporting history of Japan.

The Rugby World Cup kicks off there this Friday and the 2020 Olympic Games will be in Tokyo next July. 

It is the first time the Rugby Wold Cup will be held in Asia and 20 teams from around the globe will battle it out for the Webb Ellis trophy, famously named after a school pupil credited with inventing the game by picking up a ball during a football match in 1823.

The event will play out over the next six weeks across 48 matches in 12 different stadiums, with the final held at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on 2 November.

When it comes to rugby union, most will accept New Zealand is the dominant force and the All Blacks are looking to win the trophy for the third time in a row.

They are one of only four past winners alongside Australia, South Africa and, thankfully and most memorably, England in 2003.

While there will be no shortage of nail-biting drama and it would take a brave individual to look beyond those past winners (as well as Ireland and Wales) as the most likely winners of the 2019 event.

If only investing in Japan had any sort of similar predictability.

For many decades it has been of the most polarising markets in the world, following a prolonged period of economic stagnation, which started in the 1990s.

It is only in very recent years – and the start of Abenomics – that it has really been taken seriously once again by UK (and indeed global) investors. 

The challenges in Japan are unique. It is an export driven culture, meaning the Yen has a major impact on the economy, while a number of big macro drivers also come into consideration, particularly the shrinking and aging population. 

But it is an area where an experienced investor can be very successful, and they do not come more experienced or successful than this week’s Best in Class.

The Baillie Gifford Japanese fund is one of the oldest open-ended funds in the sector, launching in 1984, and is supported by a large-team based in Edinburgh.

The fund has been managed by Matthew Brett since 2008 and it has been a consistently excellent outperformer.

It has been ranked 11th, 8th, 7th and 2nd in its sector over one, three, five and ten years respectively.

Since taking over the fund, Matthew has returned 225 per cent for investors compared with 123 per cent for the TOPIC and 117 per cent for the average peer.

Baillie Gifford is well known for being bottom-up, growth orientated, long-term investors and this fund is no different.

Fundamental company research is Mr Brett's primary focus and source of added value. This comes through company meetings, investment trips, external research and industry trade fairs.