Beyond Bulls & Bears


Meet the manager: Justin Ma

Landing in Franklin Templeton’s Floating Rate Debt Group prior to the global financial crisis, Justin Ma is no stranger to navigating market volatility and challenging environments. Today, he is excited about new applications of data science and quantitative methods to enhance his team’s portfolio management capabilities. Learn more about Justin.

Q: Growing up, what did you aspire to be? 

A: Growing up in Nebraska, I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to do (scientist, veterinarian, professional basketball player), and I was fortunate to have a family that encouraged me to explore different careers. My first jobs when I was younger included delivering morning newspapers and bagging groceries. I certainly learned a lot from those experiences. A teacher in high school later furthered my interest in political systems and history, which helped inspire me to study those subjects in college.

Q: How did you end up in the investment management business? 

A: I started with Franklin Templeton out of college by joining the company’s Futures Associate program, a development program consisting of a series of rotations through different business units. The program was a great opportunity to explore many different parts of the company. I was able to see many facets of the investment management business and I got a sense for Franklin Templeton’s breadth of expertise and global reach.

I rotated into the Floating Rate Debt Group and stayed on full-time. I joined right before the global financial crisis, which was an eye opener for someone still relatively new to the industry. While it was a steep learning curve, working through that time helped me to better understand investing amid extreme volatility. It was a valuable experience to see the loan market go through stress and recovery.

Q: You have a degree in public policy from Stanford University. Are you able to apply some of that knowledge you’ve learned in college to your current role—and how? 

A: Studying public policy allowed me to assess the effectiveness of policies and better understand the constraints on policymakers. This background provided a strong analytical foundation, and in my current role it’s helped me to understand how political changes can influence markets, the effect of legislation on individual companies, and the impact of macroeconomic policies.

Q: What is the hardest part of your current role, and what is the most rewarding? 

A: The hardest part of my current role is navigating a constantly changing environment and processing new information every day. Your assumptions are frequently challenged and it requires conviction amid uncertainty, but also flexibility and an open mind. These challenges are also part of what makes the role so rewarding. It’s fulfilling to work with a dedicated team that dives deep into the loan market and individual credits, and utilizes that research and knowledge to develop effective strategies for portfolio management. I also feel fortunate that the nature of my work includes continual learning, including interpreting the impact of world events on markets and understanding how businesses operate.

Q: What have you learned from positioning your team for success amid the COVID-19 pandemic? 

A: I think our team’s transition to remote work—and more recently hybrid work—during the pandemic has been mostly seamless. Most of the team has worked together for a decade or more and our organizational structure is fairly flat. I think the interpersonal trust and open communication that we’ve developed over the years really allowed us to be adaptable when circumstances changed suddenly. The pandemic was certainly a bigger shock than any of us could have imagined, but through this experience we’ve learned the importance of regular and open dialogue, from daily meetings to strategy planning sessions. It’s been critical for our team to create an environment where we can express healthy disagreement and ultimately be able to rely on each other to navigate these challenging circumstances.

Q: Are there certain industry trends you are particularly excited about? 

A: While the loan market has many idiosyncrasies compared to other fixed income asset classes, I am excited to see developments in our market to increase automation to assist with trading and settlements, which should help to introduce new efficiencies to the market. We’ve also been seeing new applications of data science and quantitative methods to assist in portfolio management, credit research, and risk monitoring. I think all of these improvements will enhance our capabilities in active management and enable us to better navigate the market’s evolution.

Q: Is there one piece of advice you’ve received during your career that you still rely on today? 

A: I’ve been fortunate to have had mentors within Franklin Templeton who have given lots of great advice during my career. The simple concept of adopting a growth mindset has particularly resonated with me (and even my seven-year old niece is learning about it at school). It’s useful to understand that success cannot be defined by some fixed and innate talent or trait, but rather is achieved by seeking opportunities to learn, collaborate, innovate—and to ultimately do the work. It’s helped to remind me to focus on continually learning and embrace new challenges.

Q: What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in finance? 

A: While building basic financial knowledge is helpful, I think there is no single path to a career in finance. Professionals on our team have a wide breadth of experiences and paths that they took to their current roles, which has been an asset to the group. Although my experience in college gave me a quantitative and qualitative background, much of what I’ve learned about the market has been from my mentors and colleagues. It’s also important to be open to taking on new challenges, hearing others’ perspectives, and learning beyond the immediate job.

I would encourage people interested in a career in the industry to seek many different viewpoints and be inquisitive. I think investing is improved when we are able to incorporate a diversity of opinions, and people with different backgrounds allow us to manage blind spots.

Q: Any passions or hobbies outside of work you would like to share? 

A: I enjoy cooking and I’m often taking on new recipe projects on the weekends. I’ve also recently been working on perfecting a few of my mom’s Chinese recipes. I am also fortunate to live in northern California, where my wife and I have many opportunities to hike and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.


All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. The value of investments can go down as well as up, and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Bond prices generally move in the opposite direction of interest rates. Thus, as prices of bonds in an investment portfolio adjust to a rise in interest rates, the value of the portfolio may decline. Changes in the credit rating of a bond, or in the credit rating or financial strength of a bond’s issuer, insurer or guarantor, may affect the bond’s value. High yields reflect the higher credit risk associated with these lower-rated securities and, in some cases, the lower market prices for these instruments. Actively managed strategies could experience losses if the investment manager’s judgment about markets, interest rates or the attractiveness, relative values, liquidity or potential appreciation of particular investments made for a portfolio, proves to be incorrect. There can be no guarantee that an investment manager’s investment techniques or decisions will produce the desired result. Floating-rate loans and debt securities tend to be rated below investment grade. Investing in higher-yielding, lower-rated, floating-rate loans and debt securities involves greater risk of default, which could result in loss of principal—a risk that may be heightened in a slowing economy. Interest earned on floating-rate loans varies with changes in prevailing interest rates. Therefore, while floating-rate loans offer higher interest income when interest rates rise, they will also generate less income when interest rates decline.


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The views expressed are those of the investment manager and the comments, opinions and analyses are rendered as at publication date and may change without notice. The underlying assumptions and these views are subject to change based on market and other conditions and may differ from other portfolio managers or of the firm as a whole. The information provided in this material is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any country, region or market. There is no assurance that any prediction, projection or forecast on the economy, stock market, bond market or the economic trends of the markets will be realized. The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount that you invested. Past performance is not necessarily indicative nor a guarantee of future performance. All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. 

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