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16 mar 2018

Are Japanese equities ready to rebound?

We wrote at the start of the year that Asia, and countries like Japan, were likely to be this year’s equity hotspots. Abe’s loose policy mix, the implementation of corporate tax reform and the Shunto wage negotiations were all key catalysts.

Many investors seemingly shared our view, helping Japanese equity ETFs enjoy their best ever start to a year with inflows of over €2bn by the end of February. However, the wheels fell off as markets turned. The Nikkei was down by more than 4% YTD at time of writing (15 March), so is the case still intact? 

 Shunto offers some support

Last week, big Japanese companies agreed to raise wages for a fifth successive year after the Shunto – the spring wage negotiations between employers and enterprise unions – concluded. Away from giants like Toyota and Honda, most companies fell shy of the 3% increase targeted by PM Abe and BoJ Governor Kuroda despite tight labour market conditions and historically high profit margins.

The outcome of this year’s negotiations should still help to help drive up domestic consumption, but the rate of wage growth won’t be enough to clear the hurdles hampering the BoJ’s attempts to scale back stimulus. The combination of a negative corporate savings rate and strong wage growth driven by productivity gains – which could draw the deflation era to a definitive end – remains elusive. 

Chart 1 - Japan rebound

Source: Lyxor International Asset Management, Bloomberg. Data as at 15/03/2018

Watch our video 

Kuroda keeps loose

We expect the BoJ to keep policy loose as it strives to hit the 2% inflation target. Its next move may not come until mid-2019, when we expect it to raise its long-term yield target. Yields will therefore be suppressed for a while yet, so JGBs shouldn’t be part of the global trend of rising yields. This should help keep some downward pressure on the yen.  

Advocating Abenomics

One of the main objectives of “Abenomics” was to strengthen corporate profitability. Six years in and it appears to be working. Sales and profit margins are at their highest levels ever. The country’s potential growth rate has increased from around 0.8% in 2012 to around 1.1% - and preparations ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo should help investment activity pick up speed.   

For the first time in a long time, nominal GDP growth is surpassing long-term yields. To us, this says Abenomics policies have not only helped to weaken the yen and strengthen the economy; they have also delivered at least some of the promised structural reforms. The power to support is now greater than the power to suppress. Economic equilibrium is evolving. 

Shifting structures 

Loose policies and further structural reforms remain likely, with the government set on defeating deflation and increasing productivity by 2020. They’ve already announced programmes designed to enhance social security and education, as well as to increase public infrastructure spending. Investment over the next three years should be more intense in an effort to revolutionise productivity and human resource development.

Further structural shifts - including deregulation and labour market reform - should prompt productivity gains, lift the potential growth rate and make it easier for companies to sustain their profitability.

For all the talk of shift and change, stability matters too. Thankfully, for investors, Abe is likely win in the LDP leadership election this September.

What it all means

Japanese equities have been among the worst of the major equity markets since the start of the year (in local currency terms) – getting caught up in the general turbulence and dragged down by lower corporate earnings growth expectations and a stronger yen. But, with the economy on the mend and the BoJ keeping loose, Japanese equities look attractive to us.

We’re backing them to recover given progress towards reflation and continued profit growth. They are also less sensitive to the yen than perception has it, especially now domestic demand-led growth is gaining traction. 

Chart 2 - Japan rebound

Source: Lyxor International Asset Management, Bloomberg. Data as at 15/03/2018

The road ahead won’t necessarily be smooth - short-term headwinds include a looming end to the loose policy era, possible protectionism and geopolitical risk. Adding some protection of your own may not go amiss. Knowing what you’re exposed to matters more at times like this.  Patience could however pay-off and we’re still very positive on the long-term outlook.

Investing in Japan 

When it comes to choosing your investment vehicle, our analysis could help. In our report at the end of September last year, we found that 44% of active managers outperformed their Japan equity benchmarks over the preceding 12 months. That number drops sharply to 16% over 10 years. It seems that passive tends to win out in the land of the rising sun.

At Lyxor, we have a range of simple Japanese exposures you can choose from – among them some of the largest (the JPX-Nikkei 400) and most efficient (TOPIX) you’ll find**. You can also look to our SG Quality Japan income product for more defensive, domestic-oriented exposures

Source: All data & opinion Lyxor IAM, Lyxor Cross Asset Research, ETF Research & Lyxor Equity ETF teams as at 15 March 2018 unless otherwise stated. Past performance is no guide to future returns. ** Data over one year as at 31/01/2018. ** Efficiency data is based on the efficiency indicator created by Lyxor‘s research department in 2013. It examines 3 components of performance: tracking error, liquidity and spread purchase/sale. Each peer group includes the relevant Lyxor ETF share-class and the 4 largest ETF share-classes issued by other providers, representing market-share of at least 5% on the relative index. ETF sizes are considered as an average of AUM levels observed over the relevant time period. Detailed methodology may be found in the paper ‘Measuring Performance of Exchange Traded Funds’ by Marlène Hassine and Thierry Roncalli. Statements refer to European ETF market. Past performance is no guide to future returns.

Risk Warning


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Lyxor International Asset Management (“LIAM”) or its employees may have or maintain business relationships with companies covered in its research reports. As a result, investors should be aware that LIAM and its employees may have a conflict of interest that could affect the objectivity of this report. Investors should consider this report as only a single factor in making their investment decision. Please see appendix at the end of this report for the analyst(s) certification(s), important disclosures and disclaimers. Alternatively, visit our global research disclosure website

Conflicts of interest 

This research contains the views, opinions and recommendations of Lyxor International Asset Management (“LIAM”) Cross Asset and ETF research analysts and/or strategists. To the extent that this research contains trade ideas based on macro views of economic market conditions or relative value, it may differ from the fundamental Cross Asset and ETF Research opinions and recommendations contained in Cross Asset and ETF Research sector or company research reports and from the views and opinions of other departments of LIAM and its affiliates. Lyxor Cross Asset and ETF research analysts and/or strategists routinely consult with LIAM sales and portfolio management personnel regarding market information including, but not limited to, pricing, spread levels and trading activity of ETFs tracking equity, fixed income and commodity indices. Trading desks may trade, or have traded, as principal on the basis of the research analyst(s) views and reports. Lyxor has mandatory research policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to (i) ensure that purported facts in research reports are based on reliable information and (ii) to prevent improper selective or tiered dissemination of research reports. In addition, research analysts receive compensation based, in part, on the quality and accuracy of their analysis, client feedback, competitive factors and LIAM’s total revenues including revenues from management fees and investment advisory fees and distribution fees.

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