Investment guru once dubbed the greatest global stock-picker

 

John Templeton:THE LEGENDARY American investment guru Sir John Templeton, who has died aged 95, was as renowned in his heyday as Warren Buffett is today, for his success in reading the world's stock markets.

The arch-contrarian, dubbed by Moneymagazine "the greatest global stock-picker of the century", was renowned for his most famous aphorism, "the time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy".

An active Presbyterian, in his later years he concentrated his energies on a range of sometimes controversial charitable activities devoted to scientific studies, which he believed would boost the credibility of religious observance.

He was also known for endowing Templeton College, a graduate institution and part of Oxford University that was originally set up as the Oxford Centre for Management Studies.

The John Templeton Foundation was established in 1987 to encourage exploration into the laws of nature and the universe, and "the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity". Among its creations were the annual Templeton prize, intended to rival a Nobel prize, for innovation in spiritual action and thought (its first winner was Mother Teresa); the Kairos prize for spiritually uplifting screenplays; research into the effect of church-going on health, and into "forgiveness, humility and gratitude among recently married couples".

Templeton was born in the small Tennessee town of Winchester, near Chattanooga. His father Harvey, a committed Presbyterian, was the town lawyer who also sold real estate.

Templeton was the first from his town to go to college. He chose Yale, after teaching himself and his classmates the maths that his school was unable to provide. But a year in, his father, battered by the Depression, could no longer pay the fees. He worked his way through, partly with his winnings at poker.

After a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford he spent seven formative months and £90 (€112) travelling the world with a friend before moving to New York in 1937 as an investment adviser. His first coup was to borrow $10,000 (€6,300) when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and invest $100 (€63) on each of the 104 stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, valued at under $1 (63 cent) a share. All but four made a profit. Templeton had banked on war driving up profits. In 1940 he opened his own fund management company.

Success was based on his appreciation of the global market. After the war he was one of the first to invest in Japan, later calling Buffett "small-sighted" while judging that "if he had spent more time in foreign nations, he would be better off". The results were spectacular.

In 1954 he started the Templeton growth fund, to which thousands entrusted their money. It was estimated that $10,000 invested at the start would be worth $7 million (€4.4 million) today. He sold the growth funds in 1992 to Franklin Resources for $913 million (€573 million), of which $440 million (€277 million) went to himself. He continued to invest, and his contrarian views continued to serve him as he liquidated his own and his clients' technology stocks before the dotcom bubble burst.

The funds' annual meetings in Toronto were magnets to investors, and like all his business meetings, they started with prayer. It was, he argued, not a plea for success but a way of calming the mind. "If you begin with prayer, you will think more clearly and make fewer mistakes."

In 1968, he moved to the Bahamas, where he took British citizenship. He lived in a large house close to the sea, driving old cars and communicating largely by fax with his office.

Templeton, who was awarded a British knighthood in 1987 for his charitable activities, was married twice. He married Judith Folk in 1937 and they had three children. She died in an accident in 1951. In 1958 he married Irene Reynolds Butler. She died in 1993.

His daughter Ann died in 2004. His two sons, one of whom, John Jr, is president of the foundation, survive him.

John Marks Templeton, born November 29th, 1912; died July 8th, 2008