Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Jonathan Garner, Chief Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategist at Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be sharing why Japan Equities could be a key part of the bullish story in Asia this year. It's Thursday, May the 25th at 10 a.m. in New York.
Japan equities have rallied substantially during the current earnings season and we think further gains are increasingly likely. The theme of return on equity improvement, driven by productive CapEx and better balance sheet management, is clearly finding traction with a wide group of international investors. We first introduced this theme in our 2018 Blue Paper on Japan, where we described a journey from laggard to leader, which we felt was starting to take place due to a confluence of structural reforms such as the Corporate Governance Code and Institutional Investor Stewardship Code, as well as changes in company board composition and outside activist investor pressure.
Japan has a formidable roster of world class firms, which we have identified as productivity and innovation leaders in areas such as semiconductor equipment, optical, healthcare, medtech, robotics and traditional heavy industrial automotive, agricultural and commodities trading, specialty chemicals. As well as more recent additions in Internet and E-commerce, many of which sell products far beyond Japan's borders.
For the market overall, listed equities ROE has more than doubled in the last ten years, and it's now set to approach our medium term target of 11 to 12% by 2025. Company buybacks are analyzing at a record pace and total shareholder return, that is the sum of dividends and buybacks, is running at 3.6% of market capitalization.
Yet Japan equities are still trading on only around 13 times forward price to earnings. And Japanese firms have a low cost of capital, given the country's status as a high income sovereign, with membership of the G7, as highlighted by Premier Kishida hosting its recent summit in his home town of Hiroshima.
An additional near-term catalyst for Japan equities is that the yen is tracking significantly weaker year to date at around 135 to the U.S. dollar than company modeling, which was for around 125. Given the export earnings skew of the market, this is a positive.
All in all, Japan equities are set, we think, to more than hold their own versus global peers and be a key part of a bullish story in Asian equities this year.
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