Temasek expanding footprint in US despite trade tensions

NEW YORK • Temasek Holdings is developing an American accent.

The Singapore investment company, whose $308 billion portfolio includes stakes in companies such as Alibaba Group Holding, is still betting on the United States, even as it grows more circumspect in deploying capital amid trade tensions and an increased likelihood of a global economic slowdown.

"We need to be more exposed given the nature of the US market," said Mr John Vaske, Temasek's joint head of North America, referring to economic conditions in the past few years. "Of all the fresh capital we freed up in the last two or three years, the US has got a disproportionate share of it."

Temasek has poured US$95 billion (S$129 billion) globally into everything from start-ups to asset managers in the past five fiscal years. It made $29 billion in new investments in the 12 months through March, up from $16 billion a year earlier. Divestments totalled $16 billion.

Mr Vaske, who joined in January last year after almost three decades at Goldman Sachs Group, said there isn't a specific amount targeted for the region, but the US accounted for the largest share of new investments in the latest fiscal year, including investments in DowDuPont and Boeing Co, according to Temasek's annual review.

US assets comprised 13 per cent of the investment firm's portfolio at the end of March, up from 10 per cent two years earlier. The proportion trails Singaporean and Chinese investments, which make up 27 per cent and 26 per cent of the portfolio, respectively.

US assets comprised 13 per cent of the investment firm's portfolio at the end of March, up from 10 per cent two years earlier. The proportion trails Singaporean and Chinese investments, which make up 27 per cent and 26 per cent of the portfolio, respectively.

Temasek has three US outposts with about 40 people. It opened a New York office in 2014, followed by one in San Francisco last year, and another in Washington this year. Already an investor in Airbnb and Alphabet's Verily, Temasek said it has no specific mandate in terms of deal size or types of companies it considers.

"We will start to look at companies at a very early stage," Mr Vaske said. "We are not constrained by size on the low end in terms of dollar amount and we are not constrained necessarily on the upside."

Temasek's deepening interest in the US comes as the world is flooded with capital, creating what Mr Vaske said is "severe" competition for deals from family offices, sovereign entities and private equity firms. Temasek has embraced many of those competitors as partners in deals that they are intent on chasing, he said.

The firm, which was formed from a spin-off of state-owned businesses in 1974, invests across six sector groups, with much of their investments guided by macro themes of changing demographics and shifts in consumer spending.

While the growth prospects in the US are appealing, its escalating trade stand-off with China does cause concern, Mr Vaske said.

The firm does not anticipate a full-blown trade war, but it is "mindful of the fact that it could occur" and is approaching the possibility as another risk to manage, he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'Temasek expanding footprint in US despite trade tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe