On the Road with Jeremy Murden
China’s high-speed rail system offers views of a changing economy
Matthews Asia Portfolio Strategist Jeremy Murden recently accompanied colleagues on a research trip to China’s interior via bullet train. Traveling in excess of 200 miles an hour, the bullet trains offer express service between major cities. China’s high-speed rail network is now the world’s largest, with 18,000 miles of track. Prices for high-speed train travel are affordable, enabling villagers and workers to see distant family members, while also attracting entrepreneurs and businesspeople traveling for work.
While traveling, Jeremy saw a vast economic transformation underway, particularly the growth of China’s less-developed urban centers. Services and consumption are now the largest part of China’s economic output. “Transitions that took other countries 50 years to complete, China seems to be doing in five,” Jeremy says. The growth of entrepreneurs, small businesses and the private sector is helping to drive China’s economic transformation.
“The best way to understand culture is to get off the beaten path and meet the locals,” Jeremy notes. China has grown in leaps and bounds by encouraging entrepreneurs and small businesses, he adds. “Traveling by rail is a great way to witness these transitions up close and visit many of the enormous interior cities that are quietly fueling growth inside China today.”
When in the U.S., Jeremy still occasionally travels via a very different type of train—Amtrak commuter service—to visit family members in rural Illinois. “Amtrak is more akin to China’s older, local service trains that still play an important role in small-town life,” he observes. Jeremy understands small-town life well. He grew up in a town with fewer than 4,000 people, where most jobs involved skilled trade. In high school, his teachers emphasized vocational training and everyone took shop. He learned at an early age to do things with his hands, including welding, mechanical repairs, carpentry and electrical work.
Given that background, Jeremy delayed college and worked for a while. During that time, he began investing in stocks for his personal portfolio. Amid the exuberance of the dot-com era, Jeremy watched the value of his brokerage account skyrocket before falling back to earth as the bubble popped. The experience left him with a hands-on education about the importance of understanding valuations and a deep desire to learn more about investing with a long-term view. Jeremy restarted his educational journey by attending community college and finished his undergraduate degree at DePaul University. He went on to earn an MBA from the University of Chicago, with a focus on economics and finance.
Prior to joining Matthews Asia in 2018, Jeremy spent a decade working for William Blair, conducting manager research and overseeing the firm’s external equity manager platform. “When choosing asset managers, many important factors can be hard to quantify,” Jeremy says. “The character and consistency of investment team members, for example, are essential for meeting long-term goals.” Jeremy’s believes people are at the heart of the equation. When conducting due diligence, Jeremy spent a lot of time getting to know investment teams and making sure individuals were happy in their roles, and that all team members were aligned in how they approached their investment philosophy.
In his current role at Matthews Asia, Jeremy works with clients and prospects of the firm to help investors align their goals with potential investment solutions. “Working at Matthews Asia brings together several things I enjoy, including travel, conducting research and the opportunity to use both interpersonal and analytical skills,” Jeremy says.
Believing that Asia is likely to drive the growth of the global economy for the foreseeable future, Jeremy regularly talks with investors about ways to invest in the region. “Many allocation models have a bit of a backward-looking lens,” Jeremy says. “But if you are investing for future goals, it’s important to have a forward-looking lens and be mindful of where future growth is likely to come from globally.”
In addition to visiting China, research trips with Matthews Asia have also taken Jeremy to India. “Microlending platforms in South and Southeast Asia harnessing the power of entrepreneurs, as well as the buying power of Asia’s consumer,” he notes. Future research trips may include Bangladesh and Indonesia, countries with large population, fast-growing economies, new cuisines to try and new people to meet.
Travel remains a favorite pastime, leading Jeremy to visit more than 40 countries in the past decade and hike in mountains on every continent. His favorite destinations are often in frontier and emerging economies, where he enjoys exploring cities by foot and sitting at the counters of local restaurants where he can make conversation and order what the locals are eating. “I like learning about how different cultures function firsthand, seeing the richness of the world one city at a time.”