Matthews Asia Strategic Income (MAINX), February 2013

By David Snowball


This is an update of the fund profile originally published in February 2012, and updated in March 2012. You can find that profile here

Objective and Strategy

MAINX seeks total return over the long term with an emphasis on income. The fund invests in income-producing securities including, but not limited to, debt and debt-related instruments issued by government, quasi-governmental and corporate bonds, dividend-paying stocks and convertible securities (a sort of stock/bond hybrid).  The fund may hedge its currency exposure, but does not intend to do so routinely.  In general, at least half of the portfolio will be in investment-grade bonds.  Equities, both common stocks and convertibles, will not exceed 20% of the portfolio.


Matthews International Capital Management. Matthews was founded in 1991 and advises the 13 Matthews Asia funds.   As of December 31, 2012, Matthews had $20.9 billion in assets under management.  On whole, the Matthews Asia funds offer below average expenses.  They also publish an interesting and well-written newsletter on Asian investing, Asia Insight.


Teresa Kong is the lead manager.  Before joining Matthews in 2010, she was Head of Emerging Market Investments at Barclays Global Investors (now BlackRock) and responsible for managing the firm’s investment strategies in Emerging Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. In addition to founding the Fixed Income Emerging Markets Group at BlackRock, she was also Senior Portfolio Manager and Credit Strategist on the Fixed Income credit team.  She’s also served as an analyst for Oppenheimer Funds and JP Morgan Securities, where she worked in the Structured Products Group and Latin America Capital Markets Group.  Kong has two co-managers, Gerald Hwang, who for three years managed foreign exchange and fixed income assets for some of Vanguard’s exchange-traded funds and mutual funds before joining Matthews in 2011, and Robert Horrocks, Matthews’ chief investment officer.

Management’s Stake in the Fund

As of the April 2012 Statement of Additional Information, Ms. Kong and Mr. Horrocks each had between $100,000 and 500,000 invested in the fund.  About one-third of the fund’s Investor class shares were held by Matthews.

Opening date

November 30, 2011.

Minimum investment

$2500 for regular accounts, $500 for IRAs for the retail shares.  The fund’s available, NTF, through Fidelity, Scottrade, TD Ameritrade, TIAA-CREF and Vanguard and a few others.

Expense ratio

1.40%, after waivers, on $50 million in assets (as of January, 2013).  There’s also a 2% redemption fee for shares held fewer than 90 days.  The Institutional share class (MINCX) charges 1.0% and has a $3 million minimum.


The events of 2012 only make the case for Matthews Asia Strategic Income more intriguing.  Our original case for MAINX had two premises:

  1. Traditional fixed-income investments are failing. The combination of microscopic domestic interest rates with the slow depreciation of the U.S. dollar and the corrosive effects of inflation means that more and more “risk-free” fixed-income portfolios simply won’t meet their owners’ needs.  Surmounting that risk requires looking beyond the traditional.  For many investors, Asia is a logical destination for two reasons: the fundamentals of their fixed-income market is stronger than those in Europe or the U.S. and most investors are systematically underexposed to the Asian market.
  2.  Matthews Asia is probably the best tool you have for gaining that exposure.  They have the largest array of Asia investment products in the U.S. market, the deepest analytic core and the broadest array of experience.  They also have a long history of fixed-income investing in the service of funds such as Matthews Asian Growth & Income (MACSX).   Their culture and policies are shareholder-friendly and their success has been consistent. 

Three developments in 2012 made the case for looking at MAINX more compelling.

  1. Alarm about the state of developed credit markets is rising.  As of February 2013, Bill Gross anticipates “negative real interest rates approaching minus 2%” and warns “our credit-based financial markets and the economy it supports are levered, fragile and increasingly entropic – it is running out of energy and time.”  Templeton’s Dan Hasentab, “the man who made some of the boldest contrarian bets in the bond market last year has,” The Financial Times reported on January 30, “a new message for investors: get out of supposedly safe government debt now, before it is too late.” The 79 year old maestro behind Loomis Sayles Bond and Strategic Income, Dan Fuss, declares “This is the most overbought market I have ever seen in my life . . . What I tell my clients is, ‘It’s not the end of the world, but . . .”   

    Ms. Kong points to Asia as a powerful counterbalance to these concerns.  Its beta relative to US Treasuries bonds is among the lowest around: If, for example, the 5-year Treasury declines 1% in value, U.S. investment grade debt will decline 0.7%, the global aggregate index 0.5% and Asia fixed-income around 0.25%.

  2. Strategic Income performed beautifully in its first full year.  The fund returned 13.62% in 2012, placing it in the top 10% of Morningstar’s “world bond” peer group.  A more telling comparison was provided by our collaborator, Charles Boccadoro, who notes that the fund’s absolute and risk-adjusted returns far exceeded those of its few Asia-centered competitors.

  3. Strategic Income’s equity exposure may be rising in significance.  The inclusion of an equity stake adds upside, allows the fund to range across a firm’s capital structure and allows it to pursue opportunities in markets where the fixed-income segment is closed or fundamentally unattractive.  Increasingly, the top tier of strategists are pointing to income-producing equities as an essential component of a fixed-income portfolio.

Bottom Line

MAINX offers rare and sensible access to an important, under-followed asset class.  The long track record of Matthews Asia funds suggests that this is going to be a solid, risk-conscious and rewarding vehicle for gaining access to that class.  By design, MAINX will likely offer the highest Sharpe ratio (a measure of risk-adjusted returns) of any of the Matthews Asia funds. You really want to consider the possibility before the issue becomes pressing.

Fund website

Matthews Asia Strategic Income


2013 Q3 Report

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About David Snowball

David Snowball, PhD (Massachusetts). Cofounder, lead writer. David is a Professor of Communication Studies at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, a nationally-recognized college of the liberal arts and sciences, founded in 1860. For a quarter century, David competed in academic debate and coached college debate teams to over 1500 individual victories and 50 tournament championships. When he retired from that research-intensive endeavor, his interest turned to researching fund investing and fund communication strategies. He served as the closing moderator of Brill’s Mutual Funds Interactive (a Forbes “Best of the Web” site), was the Senior Fund Analyst at FundAlarm and author of over 120 fund profiles. David lives in Davenport, Iowa, and spends an amazing amount of time ferrying his son, Will, to baseball tryouts, baseball lessons, baseball practices, baseball games … and social gatherings with young ladies who seem unnervingly interested in him.