Nomura’s (NYSE: NMR) (TYO: 8604) monthly “Individual Investor Survey” was released late last week. This is worth an investor’s time to flip through for a read on the psychology of the Japanese investor. Nomura also lists participants’ most-watched stocks (keep reading for a screen cap) and includes questions that deal with current developments (this month’s concern the consumption tax hike impact and shareholder meetings). I discussed Nomura’s survey as a resource in my book, Investing in Japan. The survey is one of a few resources that will enhance English-language access to, and understanding of, the Japanese market.
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.
Inscription in beginning of book: “Many shall be restored that now are fallen and many
Shall fall that now are in honor.” — HORACE. Ars Poetica.
In the fourth edition of their investing classic, Security Analysis: Principles and Technique (pub. 1962; prev. ‘34, ‘40, ‘51), Graham & Dodd (and newly joined co-auther, Sidney Cottle) faced an environment in which their conservative approaches to common stock investment left them with increasingly fewer opportunities due to the 1950s bull market. They acknowledged their dilemma, which is one value investors will face time and again: stick to your bread-and-butter, “old and highly conservative standards” and risk both the charge of “old-fogyism,” and the possibility of missing important changes to the underlying structure of common stock values; or embrace the general optimism and the long-term expectations of growth, which are used to justify market levels, and risk repeating the practices, and probably the errors, of bull markets past.
About a year ago today, I published a weekly Nikkei outlook discussing whether the Nikkei was headed to 13,000 or back to 12,000. Suffice to say that much has happened since then. At the start of the new fiscal year today, the range in question is broader, 7,000 – 9,000, but obviously it is not any better (unless one has profited on the short side or had a timely exit). At any rate, investors might be excited since March was a particularly good month for equities.
The Nikkei 225 gave back 500+ points in the last two sessions of March, but the usual claims of year-end window-dressing were audible, since the N225 still managed to gain more than 11% for the month — the ascent was upwards of 18% through last Friday. The 11.4% return tied 1999 for the best March performance since at least 1991. That’s history. So what can we expect for April?
The last two Aprils have produced gains of 9.4% (2008) and 2.2% (2007) for the Nikkei 225. Both of those followed losses of approximately 1% in March. The last positive March in 2006 (7%) was followed by a 2.5% decline in April. Of bigger concern is the fact that the ensuing April to December periods for each of the past three years have been rather brutal: -31% (2008), -11.5% (2007), and +1% (2006). For those looking for a trade or a glimmer of hope, note that the N225 has closed higher two-thirds of the time in April over the past 18 years. However, the first day of trading is no indicator for the remainder of the month since up/down days are split 50:50. Lastly, know that the average monthly gain for April in the past 18 years is 1.3% and the median gain is 2.2%. By the way, the 11% March performance in 1999 was followed by a gain of more than 2% in April.
My assessment of Japanese equities in light of the domestic and global economy is still primarily negative. I continue to be of the opinion that the current trading level of the N225 reflects fair value. A simple way to play may be to consider the low-7,000 level as an area of support and a buying point, and the approach to 9,000 as an area of resistance and thus a selling point. Remember that the N225 closed the year in 2008 at 8,859. The 52-week low was back in late October at 6,994, but most recently on March 10, the Nikkei flirted with the 6,000 level again when it closed at 7,054. Keep in mind that the N225 is now down only 10% for the calendar year thanks to the March rally.
While it goes without saying that stocks are a “leading indicator” and will recover before the broader economy, the best thing to do is to be realistic. No need whatsoever to rush into equities. There are too many lingering uncertainties and the potential for even more doom and gloom. With all eyes seemingly on the U.S. (after all we got everyone into this mess), don’t put much faith in the longer-term efficacy of tweaking mark-to-market valuation or public-private investment schemes that rely on the “goodwill” of banks. Too many ifs would have to be realized before a meaningful amount of confidence could be restored and sustained.
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What to watch: Monday, 3/31: February Industrial Production; Tuesday, 4/1: Tankan (watch capex spending outlook and yen/dollar predictions — the FY07 second-half ¥/$ prediction for the December survey was 113.79 compared to 114.23-33 in the Sept. and Mar. surveys and a most recent quote of about ¥99).