What can investors do but watch and wait? Hunkered down, staring intently at CNBC, they look out for...
What can investors do but watch and wait? Hunkered down, staring intently at CNBC, they look out for the US markets to show the first signs of a definite economic recovery. Their bank accounts are stuffed with dollars, and when they see a positive-looking market twitch they throw a few handfuls of money into equities. Then they realise it is a fake run, a short-term swell in choppy waters and, with an irritated snarl, they settle down to wait once more.
But there are alternatives. Fund managers have been casting around for something investors can get excited about to take our minds off the popular international sport of US-watching. And they have found it ' it's Japan-watching.
While Japan has been used as a warning example to those optimists who believe 'it is only a matter of waiting a little' before the global markets jump up again, no one has suggested it will remain in the doldrums forever.
Prime Minister Koizumi has had a hard time of it, having been elected under the banner of reform and then paralysed by the incumbent interests, to the disappointment of the rest of the world.
Now it seems things are moving. Reform is on its way. This time it's for real. We have heard all this before, of course, and previously, as soon as the economic environment became slightly easier, the pressure came off and reforms were shelved.
But there is no call to be cynical forever. Many winners in the recent by-elections were voted in on a reformist ticket; the newly-appointed finance minister Takenaka has been putting genuine pressure on banking reform and, according to Thames River, bankruptcies are likely to follow in the next few months.
Thames River is putting its money where its mouth is with two Japan fund launches, as has London-based Asian specialist BDT, which has now started a Japan fund.
Meanwhile, Singapore-based manager APS Asset Management has set up in Dublin to sell its Japan and Asian funds.
Admittedly the new BDT fund and one of the Thames River funds are long/short, but that still shows the companies expect strong, predictable trends ' either up or down ' and that could occur through painful change followed by recovery.
Of all the developed markets, Japan is the only one where structural reform could lead to a substantial improvement in productivity in a relatively short time. And even a small change in Japan's favour in the geographical weightings of the world's big institutional mandates would lead to a huge inflow of money into the Nikkei ' and that is the performance boost companies such as Thames River, BDT and APS are trying to capture.
So if investors are looking for an equity recovery story, perhaps they should stop staring so intently at the US and keep at least half an eye on what is developing on the other side of the world.
DWP: ‘We must still be pragmatic.’
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