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The Financial Times published a fascinating profile of Guo Guangchang this week. You've likely never heard of this man or his company, Fosun, yet the FT labels him "China's Buffett." Going by Guo's own words, the comparison is spot-on.
Guo, who openly admires the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) , heads a conglomerate with a diverse set of interests, including pharmaceuticals, mining, retail, and services. Here are some of the some of the things Guo told the FT regarding his approach to business, why he resembles Buffett, and how you can ride the coattails of this business whiz.
Focus on businesses, not the stock market
"When we're thinking about investing in a company, we won't watch its stock's short-term fluctuation ... We feel that a company's long-term value is the more important factor."
That's one of the first principles of value investing. Compare that quote with this one from Buffett: "I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years."
In qualifying what he means by "long-term," Guo says it is "at least five years, 10 years or even 20 years." He still needs to stretch a little if he wants to meet the benchmark set by Buffett, who once quipped that "our favorite holding period is forever."
Circle of competence
"We will... focus on areas we are already familiar with – for example, pharmaceuticals, fashion and tourism."
This approach falls under the concept of "circle of competence," which Buffett believes is critical to investing success. The Berkshire chairman has remained remarkably disciplined in staying within that circle, which encompasses the sectors he understands well, and within which he feels he has developed a competitive advantage as an investor.
Hands-off approach to management
Guo refers to Fosun's role with regard to its subsidiaries and investments as that of a "helper," adding that "we respect their right to manage."
Buffett famously takes a hands-off approach to managing Berkshire's subsidiaries, writing in his 2010 Shareholder Letter that, "at Berkshire, managers can focus on running their businesses ... A 'hire well, manage little' code suits both them and me." (Sometimes, that gets him into trouble, as it did recently in the "Sokol affair.")
Two compounding machines
Buffett's record as a "compounding machine" is well known. Thanks to his extraordinary talent for capital allocation, Berkshire's book value per share has compounded at an incredible annualized rate of 20.2% between 1965 and 2010 -- nearly 11 percentage points ahead of the S&P 500! As a result, Buffett, who first made the Forbes 400 list in 1979, dethroned his friend Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) as the world's richest man as recently as 2008. (Buffett ranked third-wealthiest in 2011).
Guo founded Fosun in 1992 – less than 20 years ago – with a grubstake of $4,000. Today, the company has a market value of roughly US$5 billion. That has propelled Guo to No. 409 on the Forbes Billionaires List, and No. 19 on the list of China's wealthiest people, with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion.
Catering to the Chinese consumer
One of Guo's strategies is to acquire foreign brands and businesses (or interests in such), and act as a "helper" in penetrating the Chinese market, in order to ride the China's government long-term goal to develop domestic consumption. To illustrate that shift, Guo says: "Low-end food and clothing has big growth potential in China, [and Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM ) division] KFC is a good example of that."
You can own part of an "early Berkshire"
Believe it or not, you can participate in that growth, provided your broker offers access to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Fosun is at an earlier stage of growth than Berkshire Hathaway, and at first glance, it looks like one of the best -- and safest -- ways for investors to get in on China's growth story. And with the shares trading at a premium of just 10% to their net asset value, even value investors can get excited about this growth play.
Want another stock idea to play the rise of the Chinese consumer? This stock is set to soar as China's first global brand emerges.