What do Ian Fleming, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (OTC BB: MAORF.PK), and heroin all have in common? A publicly traded company named Jardine Matheson (OTC BB: JMHLY.PK). Jardine was founded in the 1800s by two guys trading heroin to China in exchange for tea for the British. Since then, the company has morphed into a conglomerate that has its fingers in too many pies to count. Some of its holdings include the five-star hotel Mandarin Oriental, land in Hong Kong, auto dealerships and manufacturers, and a chain of supermarkets and 7-lls in China.
Jardine reported a 41% jump in underlying profit for the first half of the year, from $228 million last year to $320 million. It noted a strong performance in its Indonesian auto unit and its rental properties. Jardine also reported a 44% jump in net profit but number is meaningless to Americans. This number takes into account the rise in value of appraised real estate that has not been sold.
The company is controlled by the Keswick family, heirs of the founders. At one point in time, the investment bank Fleming was a division (as in Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series). Fleming was later sold to JPMorgan Chase
The cross-holdings of publicly traded companies are a maze -- so get ready. Not only do the Keswicks control Jardine Matheson, they also control publicly traded Jardine Strategic (OTC BB: JDSHF). The family owns 10% of Jardine Strategic, which owns 53% of Jardine Matheson, which in turn owns 80% of Jardine Strategic. Furthermore, these two companies hold a controlling interest in the following publicly traded companies: Hongkong Land (OTC BB: HKHGF.PK), Jardine Motors, Dairy Farm, Mandarin Oriental Hotels, Jardine Cycle and Carriage (OTC BB: JCYCF.PK), and Astra International. So why would an investor want to get involved with this mess of companies? Why else: Because they're fantastic.
Remember, the British owned Hong Kong before they gave it back to the Chinese in 1997. Some companies like HSBC
David Winters of the Wintergreen Fund counts this as his second-largest holding. The stock has been good to his fundholders, helping the fund climb over 20% in 2006.
Jardine gets the lion's share of its profits from Asia. As this part of the world grows wealthier, its citizens will spend more money on goods and services. Jardine, with its food chains, automobile presence, land in Hong Kong, and hotels, is in a perfect place to be on the receiving end of the yuan being spent.
The Keswick family has no interest in cratering the company, because most of its net worth is tied up in the stock. A company with a 2% dividend yield and trading at less than book value might not be a bad way to take advantage of the Asian markets.
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JP Morgan is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation.