Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 13, 2022

The Resilience of Japanese Equities


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Daniel Blake from Morgan Stanley's Asia and Emerging Markets Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll discuss the resilience of Japanese equities in the face of an expected global downturn. It's Tuesday, September 13, at 8 a.m. in Singapore.

As Morgan Stanley's Chief Global Economist Seth Carpenter noted in mid-August, the clouds of recession are gathering globally. In the U.S., the Fed is hiking rates and withdrawing liquidity. Europe is suffering from high inflation, looming recession and an energy shortage. And China is facing a rocky path to recovery. In this global context, the external risks for Japan are rising quickly. And yet, compared to the turbulence in the rest of the world, Japanese equities are enjoying rather calm domestic, macro and policy waters.

In Japan, we see support for this cycle coming from three sources; domestic policy, the Japanese yen and capital discipline at the corporate sector. First, the monetary policy divergence between the Bank of Japan and global peers has been remarkable, and in our view justified by differences in inflation and growth backdrops. Japanese core inflation is just 1.4%, and if we strip out food and energy, inflation is a mere 0.4% year over year. And so we don't expect any tightening from the Bank of Japan or of fiscal policy over the next six months. Secondly, the Japanese yen is acting as a funding currency and a buffer for earnings, rather than the typical safe haven that historically tends to amplify earnings drawdowns in an economic downturn. And third, improving capital discipline is contributing to newfound earnings resilience and insulating the return on equity, with buybacks tracking at a record pace of ¥10 trillion annualized year to date.

In addition to monetary and fiscal policy, Japan's more cautious approach to reducing COVID restrictions and employment focused stimulus programs have meant that the economy is in a different phase vis-a-vis other developed markets. Our expectation for Japan's economy is low but steady growth of 1.3% on average over 2022 and 2023.

As for the Japanese yen, we believe that a weaker yen is still a tailwind for TOPIX earnings. As a result of policy and real rate divergence, as well as the negative terms of trade shock from higher commodity prices, the yen has fallen to fresh record lows on a real effective exchange rate basis. The impact of a historically weak currency on the overall economy is still the subject of some debate, but one of the largest transmission channels of a weaker yen into supporting domestic services and employment is through tourism activity, which has been constrained to date by COVID policies. But looking ahead, the combination of reopening and a highly competitive tourism offering should set up a very strong recovery in passenger volumes and spending, as we saw during the European summer this year.

So where do all these global and domestic cross-currents leave us with respect to Japanese equities? We remain overweight on the TOPIX index versus our MSCI Asia-Pacific, ex-Japan and emerging markets coverage. We've been above consensus in forecasting an exceptional recovery in TOPIX earnings per share, but we acknowledge that to date it has been largely driven by export oriented stocks.

But currently, the external environment for Asia's major exporters is weakening as a result of tighter policies, slower growth and a revision in spending from goods to services. So while this trend will impact, we think, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore more so, China and Japan will also feel the impacts given their large goods trade surpluses. But with all this said, the Japanese market still provides liquid opportunities to diversify away from the U.S. and Europe, where Morgan Stanley strategists are cautious.

So while Japanese equities have historically underperformed in global downturns, the current setup leaves us more optimistic on Japan in particular, compared with other regions like the U.S. and Europe.

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As various global markets contend with high inflation, recession risks, and monetary policy tightening, Japanese equities may provide some opportunities to diversify away from other developed markets

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