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Banking

On the trail of investment opportunities in the Wild East

Central Asia, a stronghold for dictators, poverty and corruption, doesn’t at first glance seem to offer fertile ground for high investment returns. But this is precisely what some of the region’s more intrepid investors hope to find and profit from. Kathryn Wells spends a week on the road with two hedge fund managers, on the lookout for opportunities on this new frontier.

Bids and offers in no-man’s-land

Have fund, will travel

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THE ROUTE TO the Kant Cement-Slate Plant from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is a bumpy 20 kilometres. And our car, which carries foreign number plates, is likely to attract unwelcome attention from the notorious traffic police, known by their Russian acronym GAI, stationed along the route.

After some discussion about what’s best to do our host has agreed to send his SUV, bearing official government plates, to accompany us on our journey. We weave our way through the traffic at will, paying little attention to oncoming vehicles. Those police who do contemplate stopping us have second thoughts when they see the car heading our mini-convoy. They melt away into the background. Sometimes, it seems, the system has its advantages.

We pull up at the plant, its spluttering chimneys sharply highlighted against the blue of the sky and the white of the snow-capped mountain range behind it. The snow on the mountain peaks never melts, not even in the burning 40ºC heat of summer. The thought crosses my mind: what exactly are we doing here?

It’s the final day of a week-long trip around central Asia, accompanying two hedge fund managers as they tour the region on the lookout for new investment opportunities.

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