The Japanese stock market has become a case study of central-bank manipulations, and of what happens eventually as reality cannot be eliminated forever. What you hear is a giant hissing sound. What you get is capital destruction and wealth transfer.
Entries in Japan (60)
Abenomics has its detractors – in peculiar places – and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must be experiencing some interesting pillow talk. His wife has attacked one of the major components of his economic policies, the nuclear power industry.
The leaders of Japan Inc. listened politely as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out his master plan, the cornerstone of Abenomics that would fix everything and offer big handouts to Japan Inc. As his words seeped out, the Nikkei dove 5% in a couple of hours. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his hodgepodge of old ideas and new contradictions.
Stability in the Japanese government bond market is “extremely desirable,” said Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda in a sign of just how frazzled he was after the turmoil and craziness that his over-the-edge experimental monetary policy has unleashed. But as stability eludes him, he might resort to ever more desperate measures to just hang on.
It was announced Friday afternoon, when no one was supposed to pay attention: after years of controversy, heated rhetoric, intense lobbying, and stiff opposition from some unlikely bedfellows, the Obama Administration decided in favor of the US oil and gas industry. With major geopolitical impact.
Unlike Detroit, which will run out of cash next month, Japan prints its own money, so bankruptcy in the Detroit sense is not in the cards. But they do have two things in common: depopulation and a ballooning stock of abandoned houses. For Japan, it’s an issue that even the most prodigious money-printing binge cannot resolve.
Anecdotal evidence has been piling up. Lamborghini sales hit the highest level in 14 years. Ferrari sales jumped 40%. Luxury retailers forecast fat profits. They ascribed it to Abenomics. “The sudden improvement in the stock market led to a big rise in sales at our department stores for luxury brands,” one of them said. But there is a price to pay.
Catastrophic nuclear accidents, like Chernobyl or Fukushima, are very rare, we’re told incessantly. But when they occur, they’re costly. So costly that the French government, when it came up with estimates, kept them secret. But the report was leaked: an accident at a single reactor in a thinly populated part of France could cost over three times France’s GDP.
European talking heads are reassuring us on an hourly basis, lest we forget, that the worst of the debt crisis is over. The Japanese trade deficit, a measure of reality, not words, tells a different story about the crisis in Europe. And about troubles coming to a boil in China. But neither can be cured by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to decapitate the yen.
Japan’s LDP went all out last year to re-grab power. Its platform: print and borrow with utter abandon to create asset bubbles and inflation, and to demolish the yen. Phenomenally successful! So far. But now, US automakers are squealing; they want President Obama to fight back—though the US has been printing and borrowing with utter abandon for years.
On Friday, the mayor of Futaba, a ghost town of once upon a time 7,000 souls near Fukushima No. 1, told his staff that evacuees might not be able to return for 30 years. Or never, for the older generation. He spoke in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, where the town’s government has settled. It was the first estimate of a timeframe. But it all depends on successful decontamination. And that has turned into a vicious corruption scandal.
One of the pillars of the Japanese economy has been its exports. That pillar has been crumbling for years, but the deterioration this year has progressed at a phenomenal pace. At fault: China and Europe. But beyond the noise, Japanese companies have been investing their valuable yen overseas, and it’s making the deficit structural. An ugly combination.
At a yearend Bonenkai party, an official from the Ministry of Finance, the most powerful entity at the core of Japan Inc., let slip that the Bank of Japan wasn’t doing its job; it was just giving money to the banks which bought Japanese government bonds instead of channeling it into the economy. “That’s why the Ministry of Finance is trying to gain control over the Bank of Japan,” he said.
Can your approval rating drop to zero? That must have been the question Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was brooding over as he digested two polls taken over the weekend: his approval rating had plunged 15 points from a month ago, to 19%, his lowest rating yet. Clearly, the yakuza scandal didn’t help.
Political Violence Scares Japanese Investors, Acrimony Flows Instead Of Money, But It Doesn't Stop Japan Inc.
Softbank’s announcement to buy 70% of Sprint for $20.1 billion caused its stock to plunge 17% in Japan that day. Investors had been through it before: a company paying way too much to accomplish a CEO’s megalomaniac goals, only to get mired in a corporate culture clash and other nightmares overseas. Japanese acquirers have a “terrible” track record.
“Pauperization,” the word, became infamous when three executives of huge consumer products companies voiced it as the new challenge in Europe. To market their products successfully, they changed strategies and applied what worked in poor countries. In Japan, a similar process has hounded the economy, but for much longer. And nothing shows this better than the plight of the ubiquitous but hapless salaryman.
This has got to be the icing on the Japanese cake. The website of the Japanese Ministry of Finance, more specifically the FAQ page on government bonds, has been catapulted to stardom on Facebook and Twitter. Not in a good way. It asks the question: “In case Japan becomes insolvent, what will happen to government bonds?” And then, incredibly, it answers with a terse action plan for when the Big S hits the fan.
“Japan’s experience is a sobering real-world reminder of why forceful and timely action is appropriate,” said the Fed’s Eric Rosengren in his desperation to rationalize QE3. It would be a flood of money, not the “muted” response from Japan to two decades of stagnation. “Appropriate fiscal policies”—even larger deficits—should be used to battle Japanese-style stagnation. Alas, no developed country has done that for longer and to a greater extent than ... Japan. And no developed country is in deeper trouble.
What got lost in the escalating Japan-China scuffle was an unassuming national holiday in Japan on Monday that symbolizes in the most respectful manner the slow-motion economic tsunami rolling over the country: “Respect for the Aged Day.” And this time, the young generations are paying the price.
Updated on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 9:28AM by Wolf Richter
As a kid in Germany, I engaged in underage beer drinking. I was too young to drive, so it didn’t bother anyone, except me the next day. It was when German beer consumption peaked at 151 liters per capita, the highest in the world. But then I went to America ... and German beer consumption took a multi-decade dive. In the US and other Western countries, the beer industry is now morose as well, but it's booming elsewhere.