Japan’s Market Boom Is Just Getting Started. 2 Big Reasons Why. - Kanebridge News
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Japan’s Market Boom Is Just Getting Started. 2 Big Reasons Why.

By PATRICK L. SPRINGER
Thu, Apr 11, 2024 10:40amGrey Clock 3 min

About the author: Patrick L. Springer is an institutional-equities business developer and Japan and Asia market specialist. He worked at Morgan Stanley in management roles for more than 20 years.

Japan just concluded a 34-year trek in the wilderness of deflation and ended its nearly 20-year negative interest-rate policy. The stock market has responded by achieving new all-time highs, last seen in 1989, rising 35% in the past year.

This might look like the top, but a closer look at Japan’s market suggests that the end is just the beginning for the world’s third-largest market. This year likely marks the beginning of a multiyear Japan market revival that will start a major new capital markets cycle. Japan’s companies are just beginning to celebrate a long-awaited return of pricing power supported by an enamoured global investor base looking for international ideas in a friendly market.

Investors should focus on two trends. First, new micro and macro forces are at work to make Japan a preferred non-U.S. destination for several years. With the U.S. dollar at 20-year highs, portfolio managers know that it is typically time to diversify and buy cheaper overseas markets, but where to go? Europe is cheap but challenging, and the I of India is what currently remains best of the emerging markets BRICS grouping. Exposure to Asia is important for global portfolios given it is 45% of global gross domestic product. Yet strategists say that we now live in a “multipolar world,” a euphemism for the highest level of geopolitical risks in the world in decades. This limits China investment allocations for now.

But Japan is a pre-eminent security partner for the U.S. Japan also is quickly becoming a key partner in U.S. reshoring strategies, especially as an alternative supplier of semiconductors and technology components. The reshoring trend is compounded by the yen’s weakness. At nearly 152 yen to the dollar, Japan’s currency is trading at the lowest ratio since 1990. That means Japan is also likely to regain market share that it lost over the past 20 years to China in automobile components, industrial products, and machinery. Status as a security partner matters to investors now, which will keep allocations to Japan higher for longer.

Second, Japan’s differentiated market structure may provide more alpha-idea opportunities than investors might expect from an older, developed economy. In the U.S., megacaps and the Magnificent Seven rule the world for investors—and for good reason, given their recent outperformance. The high level of exchange-traded fund penetration in the U.S. also favors large-caps over small- and medium-capitalisation stocks. But in Japan, the list of Japan’s largest companies remains unchanged: Excluding SoftBank, all were established pre-1960.

According to Abrdn Investments, 45% of Japan’s benchmark Topix Index of 2000 constituents have no analyst research coverage, compared with just 3% of the Russell 3000 universe for the U.S. As inflation sparks growth, earnings surprises and inflections of Japan’s under researched companies will lead to significantly higher alpha capture opportunities.

Additionally, the Japanese government and the Tokyo Stock Exchange have initiated important corporate-governance reforms, and 26% of all listed companies have submitted specific plans to improve their stock valuation. But many more companies have yet to respond, providing more opportunities for investors.

Sorting Japan’s nearly 3,900 stocks into market segments is revealing. Japanese mid-cap and small-cap stocks have lagged behind large-cap stocks by 40% and 60% year to date, respectively, and have lagged by 25% and 46% on a one-year basis.

Such underperformance by itself is one thing, but for the many investors who have never seen inflation, wage growth, and domestic sales gains in Japan, they may find a discovery universe of new stocks with interesting characteristics such as these:

Organo , a $2 billion market-cap water treatment company that has traded over $60 million a day on some days and counts Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing as one of its key growth customers.

Nakanishi , a $1.5 billion dental-equipment and precision-tools maker that grew sales 23% last year, sports a 2.5% yield and a 24% return on equity, and has 12% of its stock price in net cash.

Chugoku Marine Paints , a global top-three maker of marine paints that has a 20% global share and a 15% return on investment capital, sells at nearly 11 times earnings, and has a 2.6% dividend yield.

Overall, this analysis finds nearly 100 companies with a market cap above $1 billion with net cash equal to 20% or more of their stock price.

The bottom line is that Japan’s culture of innovation, combined with an end to deflation, is likely to produce a new wave of capitalisations. During the decades of deflation, corporates and consumers alike were incentivised to save more, spend less, and underinvest. But with nominal GDP growth now running at a whopping 5% and record wage growth, inflation incentivises new capital investment, stimulating a new investment-banking cycle of financing.

There are risks to this outlook. Double-digit market rallies can lead to pullbacks, and investors need to watch for threats to Japan’s inflation and currency levels and to its appetite for reform. But what’s most important for investors to realise about Japan is how much has changed there, amid a changing world.

Guest commentaries like this one are written by authors outside the Barron’s newsroom. They reflect the perspective and opinions of the authors. 



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More meetings and faceless chats. Fewer work friends. How the modern workday is fuelling an epidemic of isolation.

By TE-PING CHEN
Wed, May 29, 2024 5 min

More Americans are profoundly lonely, and the way they work—more digitally linked but less personally connected—is deepening that sense of isolation.

Nick Skarda , 29 years old, works two jobs in logistics and office administration in San Diego to keep up with his bills. After a couple of years at the logistics job, he has one friend there. He says hi to co-workers at his office job but doesn’t really know any.

“I feel sort of an emptiness or lack of belonging,” he says. Juggling two jobs leaves Skarda exhausted, with little energy or time to grab drinks with co-workers . “It makes it harder to go in and give it your all if you don’t feel like anyone is there rooting for you,” he adds.

Employers and researchers are just beginning to understand how workplace shifts over the past four years are contributing to what the U.S. surgeon general declared a loneliness health epidemic last year. The alienation affects remote and in-person workers alike. Among 1-800-Flowers.com ’s 5,000 hybrid and fully on-site employees, for instance, the most popular community chat group offered by a company mental-health provider is simply called “Loneliness.”

Consider these phenomena of modern work:

It is a marked shift from even a decade ago, when bonds fostered at work helped compensate for declining participation in church , community groups and other social institutions. As the American workday becomes more faceless and scheduled , the number of U.S. adults who call themselves lonely has climbed to 58% from 46% in 2018, according to a recent Cigna poll of 10,000 Americans.

The faceless workday

The disconnection is driving up staff turnover and worker absences, making it a business issue for more employers, executives and researchers say. Cigna, the health-insurance company, estimates that loneliness is costing companies $154 billion a year in absenteeism alone.

“Work is social, it’s a lot more than a paycheck,” says James McCann , founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com.

Earlier this year, 1-800-Flowers.com moved from three days in the office to four to boost a sense of connectivity among workers. It has also begun tapping workers across teams to serve as designated hosts during lunchtime, encouraging people to sit with colleagues they don’t know in common areas and chat, and suggesting conversation topics.

While today’s workers have more ways to connect than ever, “there are only so many memes and jokes you can send over Slack,” says Maëlle Gavet , chief executive of Techstars, a pre-seed fund that has invested in 4,100 startups. “We tend to have more and more people with back-to-back calendars, more meetings and less connections.”

Gavet says that is especially the case for hybrid workers on in-office days, which they tend to use to dash from one meeting to the next.

Paradoxically, meetings can make people feel lonelier—and even more so if the meetings are virtual, behavioural researchers say. A 2023 survey by employee experience and analytics company Perceptyx found people who described themselves as “very lonely” tended to have heavier meeting loads than less-lonely staffers. More than 40% of those people spent more than half their work hours in meetings.

In Cincinnati, Kelly Roehm says she came to chafe at the meetings—sometimes as many as 12—consuming her day after joining a consulting company in 2021. She would often feel her eyes glazing over as she multitasked on other screens.

“It’s like you’re a zombie, there but not there,” says Roehm, who lived 10 minutes from the office but worked mostly remotely because she says few colleagues typically came in. It is a more common setup as companies distribute teams across more locations: At Microsoft , 27% of the company’s teams all worked in the same location last year, compared with 61% in 2019.

She compares that experience with her time more than a decade ago at a company now owned by AstraZeneca . There, she enjoyed lots of social outlets at work: a Weight Watchers group and a lunchtime crochet club.

“Now if I were to think about asking, ‘Hey, do you want to participate in something like this,’ it would just sound weird,” says Roehm, who left this year to focus on her own career-consulting business. “There wasn’t that emotional attachment that made it difficult to say, it’s time to move on.”

The power of small talk

Office chitchat, sometimes an unwanted distraction, seems to provide more benefits than many people realize, says Jessica Methot , an associate professor at Rutgers University who studies social ties at work.

In a study of 100 employees at different workplaces, Methot and fellow researchers surveyed participants at points throughout the day. They found those who had engaged in small talk reported less stress and more positivity toward co-workers.

Even exchanging pleasantries with a co-worker you barely know can help, says Sarah Wright , an associate professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury who studies worker loneliness.

“We used to think loneliness has to be overcome by developing meaningful relationships and having that degree of intimacy,” Wright says. “More and more, though, we’re seeing it’s these day-to-day weak ties and frequency of [interactions] with people that matters.”

Such interactions are substantially harder to replicate in a virtual environment. “The default now is, I have to schedule time with you, even if it’s five minutes, instead of just picking up the phone,” says Katie Tyson , president of Hive Brands, an online food retailer founded in 2020 as a fully remote company.

The frictions add up, she says. Last fall, the company added an office in New York where employees voluntarily gather a couple of times a week to foster more cohesion.

Coming to the office, even on a hybrid basis, tends to yield a roughly 20% to 30% boost in serendipitous connections, according to Syndezo, which analysed survey data and email and messaging traffic from more than two dozen large companies.

Yet there are diminishing returns to time in person, says Philip Arkcoll , founder of Worklytics, which analyses workforce data for Fortune 500 companies. Coming in once a month provides a significant boost in ties; two or three times a month adds a little more, Worklytics data show. Once or twice a week results in a smaller increase, though, and working in-person four or five days a week makes almost no difference.

A business priority

Ernst & Young has asked managers to use the first five minutes of team calls to engage in conversation “as real human beings,” says Frank Giampietro , whose title, chief well-being officer for the Americas, was created in 2021 to help support employees during the pandemic.

The professional-services firm is also training employees to spot and reach out to co-workers struggling with issues such as isolation. To date, more than 1,600 employees have taken the training.

One challenge is that American workers have sacrificed connection for productivity, says Julie Rice , co-founder of fitness chain SoulCycle. These days, with more business contacts preferring video calls, she finds breakfast meetings and coffee dates on her calendar have been replaced with Zoom. Though efficient, such video calls are less likely to yield conversations that can turn into useful professional connections or lasting friendships, she says.

“Even people I’m meeting with here in New York, we’ll just Zoom,” she says.

Last year, Rice co-founded Peoplehood, a company that runs “gathers” to improve connectivity and relationship skills, and employers are signing up. One, a beauty-services business with hundreds of field employees who never see each other, asked Peoplehood to host a series of gatherings for workers to meet and share job advice. Another, a marketing company with far-flung employees, requested help after surveys showed staff wanted to feel more connected.

“Whatever relationships we had pre-Covid have sort of run out of gas,” Rice says.

Good luck prodding employees to socialise, though. Nearly all the 150-odd staff at the Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters of Shaklee, the nutrition-supplements company, used to attend annual Earth Day gatherings, which involved community service, lunch and breaking early for the day, says Jonathan Ramot , the company’s North American human-resources director. Office happy hours, bowling outings and “mix and mingles” were also robustly attended.

Now that the workforce has gone remote, last year’s Earth Day event attracted 20 staffers, even though most workers live nearby.

“We have a lot of people asking for in-person events, but when we plan them, they don’t show up,” Ramot says. “Then they complain they’re lonely.”

This past April, Shaklee instead held a mandatory get-together with the chief executive, who had relocated to Florida during the pandemic and was in town. About 100 employees gathered at a brewery for food, drinks and conversation—and no speeches from the bosses.

There was a buzz in the air, Ramot says, as staff hugged and delighted in seeing each other, some for the first time. “People were saying, I miss this,” he says.