Why is Temasek Buying Into Merrill?

Pranay Gupte has an excellent profile of Temasek, the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund which has just invested $4.4 billion in Merrill Lynch. Nobly, he uses the word “nepotism” – which is more than the Financial Times is happy doing. But the more you read his article, the less the Merrill investment makes sense. It’s not in Asia, for starters, and it doesn’t really fit into the stated Temasek investment themes:

“In Asia, we have four basic investment themes: belief in the growth of Asian economies, the growing middle class as the primary driver of consumer demand, deepening comparative advantage, and companies which are emerging global champions,” Kejriwal said in an interview earlier this year.

So why is Temasek buying into Merrill? The US investment house does have some Asian presence: I remember that it helped to spark a brief fad among Asian retail investors for emerging-market perpetual bonds. But Merrill’s future will be determined by the fate of its US franchise; the Asian business is really an afterthought. Given that Temasek has had precious little appetite for US investments in the past, what’s changed now?

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