Berko: Japanese stocks worth owning
Friday, May 17, 2013 7:00 AM
Some readers have asked for my opinion on the Japanese stock market, the Japanese economy and the stocks of Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Canon, Sumitomo and other large Japanese companies. Well, except for a few electronic gadgets, a 310-year-old samurai sword I own, four great Yokohama tires I bought for an SUV, and an old Honda Gold Wing, I don’t know much about Japanese products. I’ve limited my contact with anything Japanese (except for two fantastic sushi restaurants) because I find that most things Oriental are inscrutable. And that’s certainly my loss. But I do have a fair understanding of the Japanese economy, which I think has some darn good potential over the coming few years.
The Japanese economy, the third largest in the world, has muddled through 15 years of deflationary stagflation, largely because of Japanese consumers’ tendency to restrain their purchases because they think prices will continue to decline. And during the past 10 years, the Nikkei 225 (equivalent to our Standard & Poor’s 500 index) was the worst-performing stock market index of the largest 23 industrialized nations. Since 2002, the Nikkei has posted a return of 34 percent, while the average return for the 22 other stock market indexes has been 137 percent. However, within a year after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the market began to turn, and the Nikkei was up 19 percent in 2012.
But Japan still is lingering and needs either a war to put some zip-a-dee-doo-dah into its economy (like our Afghanistan, Vietnam and Iraq) or a massive monetary stimulus. So Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Haruhiko Kuroda at the Bank of Japan (the Japanese equivalent of our Federal Reserve) took a page from President Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. A month ago, they unleashed a massive program of quantitative easing, combined with some radical economic policies called “Abenomics.” Some Japanese dissenters call it the hokey pokey. This will more than double the country’s money supply and, the Japanese hope, banish deflation, which has dogged Japan for the past 15 years. The Bank of Japan will begin to purchase 7 trillion yen, or $70 billion, of government bonds every month with electronically created money to stoke demand, raise prices and push up wages. (Now, be mindful that our Fed is stuffing $85 billion a month in the U.S. economy. Also be mindful that Japan’s economy is one-third the size of ours, so Japan’s $70 billion a month will have three times the impact.) Then, to further jump-start the economy, the Japanese government will increase public spending by 11 percent, hoping that inflation will rise by more than 2 percent by 2015. This is a bold move that could have bold results that could be boldly reflected in Japanese equities. So consider the following Japanese issues, about which most of us round-eyes know very little.
Itochu Corp. (ITOCY-$25.89) has been doing things in a Japanese way for more than 150 years and is one of the largest producers of pulp paper in the world. This diversified $60 billon-revenue company is also involved in food products, energy, solar and biomass power, chemicals, real estate, financial services, health care products, TV/Internet, water desalination, and 90 other businesses in 66 countries.
Fanuc Corp. (FANUY-$26.95), with $7 billion in revenues, may be the leading robotics firm in the world. Founded in 1956, Fanuc designs, produces and markets assembly line robots for automobile and electronics plants. And its lasers and super-nanomachines are considered to be top-of-the-line.
Marubeni Corp. (MARUY-$73.91), founded in 1858, is a hugely diversified company generating $62 billion in revenues from oil and gas exploration, wastewater treatment, marine products, household products, petrochemicals, fertilizers, footwear, agricultural products, sporting goods, real estate and much more.
Finally, Murata Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (MRAAY-$21.25) has been a Japanese company since 1944 and, in 2012, sold more than $8 billion worth of capacitors, piezoelectric components, power supplies, surface acoustic wave filters, ceramic resonators, isolators, circuit modules, connectors, EMI suppression filters, inductors, sensors and the like.
Those are four classy companies, and in the coming couple of years, they could provide investors with significantly above-average capital gains.