I don’t see the yen “blowing up”

Standard

An excerpt from a post I made in January 2013, and not dissimilar to what I’ve said in times past or believe today. I included some present day comments in brackets.

I don’t see the yen “blowing up” — it’s not as simple as some may wish [initials K.B.] or have been led to believe [initials J.M.] to see a currency like the yen or a country like Japan “blow up” in a straight line. Beware macro pontification coattailing [did I coin a term?]. The great 2005 Nikkei rally saw a roughly 10% weakening of the yen. Overnight [15 Jan 2013], Economy Minister Akira Amari warned excessive yen appreciation (typo: depreciation) may benefit exporters but would hurt people’s livelihoods. The business press is concluding Minister Amari as having suggested the yen has weakened enough. In fact, too weak of a yen begins to hurt exporters if materials costs don’t start to decrease. In this sense, the input environment is quite different than ’05; ditto the strength of the global economy now vs. then. [e.g. crude oil ~$100/bbl these days; Friedman’s The World is Flat was published in 2005]

Japan: one-trick ponies, exporters, yen, QE, EWJ, real estate, domestic demand; some sound conclusions

Standard

Value investors will still find excellent valuations in Japan despite the market’s gains over the past several weeks. As I say again, in my latest exclusive at Seeking Alpha, “Investing in Japan Beyond the Platitudes,” the most interesting opportunities are in domestic-demand small/mid-cap companies. I’ve received a number of messages asking about WisdomTree’s hedged Japan Equity fund (DXJ). Yes, DXJ has done well, much better than iShares Japan (EWJ), in this rally. However, I’m not a big fan of DXJ for some of the same reasons I don’t like EWJ. Over 270 portfolio holdings for DXJ and 300 for EWJ mean outside of  the top-few positions no one stock is really going to move the needle; the top holdings are not dissimilar from the benchmark indexes nor the one-trick pony mutual fund managers. Exporters are already cyclical and the demand/supply (selling) of their shares only makes them more cyclical — this is even more a concern should positions get closed en masse in DXJ given its smaller asset base that has surged only recently.

Finally, I don’t see the yen “blowing up” — it’s not as simple as some may wish or have been led to believe to see a currency like the yen or a country like Japan “blow up” in a straight line. Beware macro pontification coattailing. The great 2005 Nikkei rally saw a roughly 10% weakening of the yen. Overnight, Economy Minister Akira Amari warned excessive yen appreciation may benefit exporters but would hurt people’s livelihoods. The business press is concluding Minister Amari as having suggested the yen has weakened enough. In fact, too weak of a yen begins to hurt exporters if materials costs don’t start to decrease. In this sense, the input environment is quite different than ’05; ditto the strength of the global economy now vs. then.

Simplistic Japan trade, best wishes in 2013

Standard

Quite a rally in Japan over the past six weeks. I’m happy there’s some excitement about Japanese stocks but at the same time I’m worried the hot money and sentiment will prove truly ephemeral. Institutional investors in the U.S. are mostly one-trick ponies when it comes to Japan. I discuss this in my book. Retail investors often get burned going long iShares Japan (EWJ), not exactly their fault though with the sudden swarm of Japan pundits pitching long-Japan/short-yen, all paying obligatory homage to EWJ. For the record, EWJ is not the Nikkei (N225) and though it is a convenient proxy in conversation, it is a poor one in practice.

With that being said, Japan could remain the hot trade into 2013 but it’s worth knowing what’s going on, notably with the impact of the yen. Expectations seem to be quite high (too high!?) that inflation can be created and this will somehow right Japan’s ‘doomed’ economy. I’m doubtful of manufacturing real growth with money schemes. I also don’t believe Japan’s economy is doomed. In fact my favorite stocks are mostly domestic-demand companies. Grab a copy of my book if you haven’t already. Meantime, hope you enjoy my exclusive article at Seeking Alpha: “Real numbers and thoughts behind a weak yen and Japan’s exporters.” Best wishes in 2013!

Japan’s demographic sweet spot?

Standard

Longtime Japan observer, Jesper Koll, currently head of equity research at JPMorgan Japan, argues Japan is in a “demographic sweet spot.” In a recent interview with Bloomberg (see video clip queued from 2:35 mark*) he made some key points rarely shared when Japan’s demographics are discussed, one being that wage deflation is ending. His focus was more on the opportunities surrounding taking care of Japan’s elderly and the likelihood that they will spend their trillions of yen on comfort. A point often forgotten by those outside of Japan is that the aging society means higher-paid older workers are retiring, easing compensation expenses for companies. Importantly, this situation also allows companies to pay younger workers better, which in turn should allow for more, if not earlier, possibilities of family formation.

I don’t agree that Japan should hike its sales tax despite its deficit (discussed in the first portion of the video). With all the net cash on balance sheets and positive earnings across Japanese companies, I’d argue there are more clever ways to enhance tax revenues and consumer spending rather than sticking consumers with a tax hike. If you’re interested in what this means for investing in Japan, I cover demographics, individual’s composition of net assets and how little is actually in equities, and much more in my book, Investing in Japan.

*Ignore strike-through text of link. It was active at time of posting.

Barron’s on the Nikkei’s 2012 reversal

Standard

Barron’s Kopin Tan writes about the Nikkei’s reversal this year in the International Trader – Asia section (first half discusses Prada’s valuation) of this week’s edition. After being the best-performing market in Q1, the Nikkei has slid 16% since its peak in late March. The vicissitudes of the market should not weigh on value investors. In a phone conversation I told Tan that the rallying and retreating is a recurring theme for Japan.  I am thankful for the cheaper stocks and see excellent opportunity in domestic demand stocks, yes, the debt-ridden, deflation defatigued, and demographically doomed domestic economy. I’m being facetious of course. But as I watched fiscal year-end March earnings and the next fiscal year forecasts come in, there were more and more companies reporting and/or forecasting record earnings. The persistently strong yen is far from ideal, but take a moment and think about the fact that the majority of Japanese companies have remained profitable despite the horrible aftermath of 3/11, the severe flooding in Thailand only a few months later (manufacturing facilities impacted), and of course the ongoing uncertainty in the EU and elsewhere.

To learn all about investing in Japan (comprehensive A-Z overview of the nuts and bolts of the market and its players, as well as key idiosyncrasies and enigmas explained) including why the debt, deflation, and demographic fears are overblown, see my book, Investing in Japan. If you are currently investing in Japan by way of the iShares Japan ETF (EWJ) or another Japan-focused ETF or a mutual fund, you’ll definitely want to see how your money is actually being managed. Japan’s broadly undervalued market (0.9-times reported book value among large caps and significantly cheaper for smaller caps) and abundance of deeply undervalued  (net-nets) and very attractively valued (“GARP”) stocks  means there are multiple viable investment approaches. Don’t be misled by tunnel-visioned macro opinion jockeying at one extreme and pedantic fault-finding on the other. Shares of Unicharm (Tokyo: 8113), a leading Japanese diaper and hygiene product maker, rose four-fold last decade.

IIJ: cutting edge Japanese IT company at dial-up prices

Standard

Internet Initiative Japan (IIJI) (3774) is being overlooked by the market of late after a run last year to a multi-year high. Poised for a record fiscal year (which ends in a couple weeks), no doubt 2012 – 2013 will prove to be even more impressive. See my write-up, which appears as an exclusive premium article on Seeking Alpha. Also, my just-released book, Investing in Japan, is now available on Amazon. Continue reading

No Stock Market as Undervalued and as Misunderstood as Japan

Standard

Japanese stocks have done very well in 2012 and of course the weakening yen has increasingly more to do with the rally; deservedly so for the people of Japan. Otherwise, and unless Japanese stocks continue to do well, they could become neglected once again. Not necessarily a bad thing for value investors, and regardless of the rally to-date, valuations in Japan remain extremely compelling. Allow me to introduce my book, Investing in Japan: No stock market is as undervalued and as misunderstood as Japan, just released this month. Continue reading

Explaining Nintendo’s 10% Jump

Standard

Shares of Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) (7974) jumped 9.8% overnight in Japan, while the broader market (the Nikkei 225) was up a far more modest 1.4%, and as the yen remained stubbornly (relatively) strong at Y76.65 against the US$. What explains this big move? The Japanese business press is at a loss for the most part. The Nikkei says it was a rebound after recent heavy selling, i.e. it was oversold, and in fact Nintendo had just hit a 52-week (and multiple year) low on Friday. That’s a reasonable explanation. However, note that FISCO is reporting the Tokyo Exchange will make a friendly takeover offer for the Osaka Exchange (this development is not new news except that the two reportedly have finally come to an agreement for a merger allowing for the friendly TOB), which fueled expectations of Nintendo being included in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average; it is currently traded on the Osaka Exchange, among the very few with such a large market cap that is. This is a situation similar to when a company is added to the S&P 500 and receives a nice bump in share price.  So a little bottom fishing and index premium boost brings reprieve to Nintendo shareholders.  I am long Nintendo and looking to add more to my position. Please see my article discussing my investment thesis on Nintendo.