Analysis:Japan's inflation comeback prompts investors to tear up old playbooks

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LONDON/TOKYO : Global inflationary forces are finally seeping into Japan's economy after decades of falling prices, forcing investors to radically rethink their Japan bets as the Bank of Japan considers a major policy shift.

International investors, who have long favoured stocks benefiting from Japan's ageing population or a weakening yen, are tearing up their playbooks to focus on expected higher interest rates, more generous dividends and a revival in consumer spending.

The policy switch has been slow in coming but could herald an entirely new way of investing in Japan if a predicted long-term inflation rate of 2 per cent in 2024 really happens.

Japanese shoppers who no longer expect prices to keep falling may make big purchases. If the BOJ pulls interest rates above zero for the first time in years, banks' lending margins could rise.

Japanese stock markets have already rallied to around their highest since 1990, with consumer and financial stocks outperforming domestic indexes. On the downside, inflation creates a bleak outlook for Japanese government bonds.

"Interest rate policy is undergoing a historic change," said Shigeka Koda, chief executive of the $500 million Singapore-based hedge fund Four Seasons Asia Investment.

"Something new is in the offing."


Japan's ageing demographic has made a Japanese crematorium company one of the top picks for foreign investors, with its shares up almost 700 per cent in five years.

Koda's top positions have included the crematorium operator - Kosaido Holdings - as well as Rheon Automatic Machinery, which sells cake-making robots to help food manufacturers deal with a shrinking workforce.

But in August, for the first time in the 17-year history of his fund, Koda picked a Japanese bank, Kyushu Financial, as his largest position, because he believes Japanese interest rates will rise.

Steve Donzé, deputy head of investment at Pictet Asset Management in Tokyo, said he had also been buying Japanese bank stocks.

For Junichi Inoue, head of Japanese equities at Janus Henderson, consumer businesses with the pricing power to increase revenues and profits by passing higher energy and food costs on to customers were the focus.

"I do like convenience stores," he said. "Margins have really been going up, earnings have been good - positively surprising."


Japanese wages, adjust...

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