Could negative investor sentiment on Japan be wrong?

02/17/2011 6:13 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Japanese stocks soared overnight, February 17, to their highest level in nine months on forecasts of higher economic growth.

Of course, the higher forecasts of economic growth were for the United States and the Japanese stocks that soared highest were those of Japanese exporters who get the majority of their sales from North America.

Canon (CAJ) gets about 80% of its revenue from overseas—the camera maker’s shares were up 3.4% in Tokyo. Honda Motor (HMC), which gets 84% of its revenue abroad, rose 2.3% in Tokyo trading. Nintendo (NTDOY), Japan’s largest maker of handheld video games, was up 3.9% in Tokyo.

In contrast the Nikkei 225 index, which dilutes its exporters with a strong dose of domestic stocks, rose just 0.38%.

Japan’s more inclusive Topix index is up 7.6% in 2011. That’s driven the average price of stocks in the index to 16.5 times forward earnings. That’s more expensive than the U.S. Standard & Poor’s 500 or the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets index. The picture looks very different for Japanese exporters who are taking advantage of the recovery in the U.S. economy. Canon, for example, trades at just 14.9 times projected 2011 earnings per share.

But earnings per share has long been a deceptive measure of value when it comes to Japanese companies that often emphasize revenue and growth over profits. On other measures, the Japanese market looks cheap across the board. The Topix trades at a price-to-book ratio of 1.1 when the price-to-book ratio on the S&P 500 is 2.3.

In a January Bloomberg survey 23% of respondents picked Japan as the likely worst performing market for 2011. (Only the European Union was less popular.) Worth considering the possibility, on yesterday’s pop by exporters and the market’s 7.6% gain in 2011 to date, that investors who answered that survey might be wrong.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did own shares of Canon as of the end of December. (I will have the January portfolio holdings posted this week.) For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of December see the fund’s portfolio at
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