Some thoughts about investing in Japan

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I recently published an exclusive article at Seeking Alpha, “Thoughts About Investing in Japan.” I like how SA has incorporated the summary bullet points atop its posts. I’m posting them below here with the original article linked in the aforementioned title. It’s not easy writing about Japanese stocks on SA when fewer and fewer Japanese ADRs trade in the U.S. (you can’t link Tokyo-listed ordinary shares on the site), let alone the matter that I’m focused on smaller caps. Have a look at the SA article and by the way, if you missed it, I launched a small/micro cap quarterly best-idea Japanese stock newsletter (Uguisu Value) in January.

Summary

  • Nomura’s latest investor survey shows Japanese individuals remain long Japan.

  • Demand for Japanese stocks seen exceeding supply.

  • Most-watched stocks include many usual suspects.

  • Thinking of Soros, Templeton, and Marks for Japan 2015-20.

  • Japanese stock idea generation.

Nomura’s Individual Japanese Investor Survey

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The results of the latest Nomura survey of individual investors in Japan (August 14th) show Japanese investors are slightly less bullish — naturally given Ukraine/Russia, Iraq, Israel/Hamas, etc — though they are not getting spooked out of equities. Investors remain upbeat on the yen (correspondingly bearish on the euro) and they say they like Japanese equities best again (most bullish on capital goods and bearish on consumer goods).  Continue reading

Nomura’s Individual Japanese Investor Survey (June 2014)

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Nomura’s (NYSE: NMR) (TYO: 8604) monthly “Individual Investor Survey” was released yesterday. (Here’s my walk-through for May). Japanese investors are slightly more bullish, while they remain concerned about international affairs with a particular interest in forex developments, naturally. Their top sector focus (most appealing/unappealing) was unchanged: they like capital goods and autos, somewhat surprisingly in my opinion; bearish on transportation and utilities, unsurprisingly. Japanese investors seem to always have a place in their heart for higher yielding currencies, hence their fondness for the Australian dollar, though they also like the yen, which is interesting because 65% of respondents see a weaker yen on the horizon. So what investment do Japanese investors like most?  Continue reading

I don’t see the yen “blowing up”

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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

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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

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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!

No Stock Market as Undervalued and as Misunderstood as Japan

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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

Nintendo bottoming: worries over games proven overdone again

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I have followed up on my original bullish take on Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) (JP: 7974) from June. In my latest, carried as an exclusive on Seeking Alpha, I explain why I remain bullish on Nintendo and among other things include mention of recent Japanese analyst actions. *Click “Read Full Story” below for hyperlink to Seeking Alpha.*

Explaining Nintendo’s 10% Jump

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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.

The ongoing JGB battle

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No doubt David Einhorn (Greenlight Capital) is an astute investor. Recently he declared his bearish view on JGBs, which subsequently has generated heavy interest among financial and political circles. Hats off to Gwen Robinson of FT Alphaville for solid ongoing coverage of the latest JGB tale (see JGBs and the ‘end’ of the short-squeeze fest). My take is as follows:

Regardless of whether Einhorn still has his short trade on or not, the chips are stacked against him and any copycats. It’s a fat chance for opportunistic hedge funds, since JGBs, even with their paltry yields (and circumstantial concerns), have both sizable and perpetual domestic demand. As I said in my last post on this topic, in spite of subdued individual investor demand, there is always an obliged patron of JGBs (the domestic institutional investor), which in the collective can fend off any offensive.

On the surface, Japanese investors sure seem confounded, largely (and in the author’s opinion, mistakenly) shunning their own depressed equities, while settling for skeletal JGBs and feeling compelled to chase overseas trends.  I used to think they were unpatriotic, in a sense, for not being buyers of domestic stocks. However, it turns out they are exceedingly patriotic given that even if they’ve lost their appetite for JGBs (in the case of individual investors), they’ll be silent holders one way or another via proxy, thanks to institutional money managers.

The Einhorn-JGB story is a reminder to Japan bears that no matter how shaky the shoji rice paper sliding doors and tatami floors appear, the pillars are quite strong and have reinforcements. As I discovered last October (’08) when the Nikkei tumbled to 1982-levels, the seemingly disastrous cross-shareholding system in Japan actually turned out to be one solid floor for equities. With the addition of timely pension fund-buying, the two effectively stopped the hemorrhaging.

So it is, Japan remains an enigma to outsiders. JGB shorts with a prerequisite nine lives. And value investors stuck in, or already having pried themselves out of, the most elusive value trap.