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.

One too many raw deals for shareowners

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I recently wrote an article published exclusively on Seeking Alpha, entitled, “Why GE’s Buyback is a Raw Deal for Shareholders.” Share repurchase programs are trumpeted out and rarely questioned.  I believe that many, but not enough, investors understand that buybacks can be largely self-serving and hardly in shareowners’ best interests. I encourage you to read the above linked story (link visible in full article view) on GE and note the fact that the impact of share buybacks when looking at shares outstanding is very dismal; stock price performance is equally unimpressive. Continue reading

GE’s undervaluation and poor corporate governance

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General Electric’s (GE) annual shareowner meeting is tomorrow (Weds.) in Detroit. I urge those that haven’t voted to do so as soon as possible today to ensure votes are counted. To help make readers better informed and to generate discussion, I prepared two write-ups surrounding GE’s annual meeting: (1) a review of each item for vote on its proxy, and (2) a look at why GE is undervalued. [Hyperlinks visible in full article view.] It’s unmistakable to me the market has been efficient in valuing GE shares when considering GE’s deficient corporate governance and management. Please continue reading even if you have read the above two linked articles. Continue reading

Proxy statements underrated, a critical review of GE

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I have heard from fellow value investor Jacob Wolinsky (of ValueWalk) that Paul Sonkin, manager of the Hummingbird Value hedge fund, believes proxy statements are the most underrated of statements; Wolinsky perhaps inspired by that says rather than refer to the 3 key financial statements it really should be “4.” I couldn’t agree more. As I have been doing since 2010, I prepared an in-depth review of GE’s 2012 proxy statement. It really is imperative that investors read their companies’ proxies and not only vote more often but of course vote better informed.

Furthermore, with more governance and shareowner-rights minded investors gathering at sites like the United States Proxy ExchangeMoxyVote, Proxy Democracy, as well as TheShareholderActivist, we may gain enough critical mass to do more reviews like mine of GE, and light a fire under the large institutional holders that too often vote with management. Please see my review of GE, which appears exclusively on Seeking Alpha (dot-com). The comments there show that investors do care and are voting. The future is bright with Seeking Alpha recently hitting 1 million registered readers and Moxy Vote hitting the 100,000 mark.

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

Reuters publishes Nader’s entreaty to Cisco, blocks comment

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Great to see Ralph Nader write something on the very important matter of dividends and stock buybacks, see, “It’s time for Cisco to cough up shareholder cash.” (Hyperlink visible in full article view) And great to see it published by a mainstream outlet like Reuters. Billions of dollars, if not tens of billions, at companies like Cisco and General Electric for example, are being blown on buybacks while dividends are a much lower priority. Unfortunately, however, Reuters blocked my comment to Mr. Nader’s article. Following is a copy of what I wrote. Continue reading

GE, Gibson Dunn vs. SEC & Me Take II

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Serendipitously on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I was able to relay great news for shareowners of General Electric (GE) and all publicly-traded companies. The SEC ruled the prior week that GE cannot omit my critical proposal (hyperlink appears in full article view; see page 2 of PDF) requesting its board reexamine dividend policy. GE has since resubmitted dubious arguments to the SEC seeking a reversal of opinion so that it can kill my proposal and ensure the truth of my findings and the merit of my resolution do not appear before us shareowners. Continue reading

When the proxy system works: SEC allows critical dividend proposal at GE

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As I pen this article on this day of remembering/honoring Martin Luther King Jr., an icon of activism, I am elated to share great news for General Electric (GE) and all public equity shareholders alike: the Securities and Exchange Commission has informally ruled that GE cannot omit my proposal from its 2012 Annual Meeting and proxy statement. In short, my proposal involves allowing shareholders to vote whether GE’s board should reexamine the company’s dividend policy. This may not sound terribly important in light of MLK’s efforts and accomplishments, but believe me, in light of the injustice that has taken place at GE (and at other listed companies), the SEC’s ruling is significant. Allow me to explain some of the procedure and reasoning behind my proposal, as well as GE’s reaction thus far. Continue reading

The high price of GE’s stock repurchases

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Beware the stock buyback story. While Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) (BRK.B) investors and the media were mostly pleasantly surprised by the company’s (i.e. Buffett’s) announcement yesterday saying it may buy back its stock under certain conditions, the situation is quite different at General Electric (GE). The most recent buybacks at GE have cost approximately $30/share, which is almost double the stock’s market price. And buybacks leading up to the 2008 crash were extremely destructive to value. Find out more in my exclusive article about GE’s buybacks on Seeking Alpha (dot-com).

Opportunity behind Nintendo’s falling stock price

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Please see my article about Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) (JP: 7974) published exclusively at Seeking Alpha, “Nintendo: Dirt Cheap Ahead of Next Growth Cycle.” Take the time to read the whole piece and note where I say, “As attractive as Nintendo’s valuation is, I would not be surprised to see its stock trade lower near-term, especially as the last analysts feel obligated to make their (belated) downgrades. Nevertheless, I’m fairly convinced history will rhyme for Nintendo, and accordingly, believe this is a buying opportunity (buy-and-hold and/or accumulate).”