The Short View

August 5, 2013 3:42 pm

Shinzo Abe’s holiday timing reflects confidence in Japan

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Prime minister’s break comes as Japan is in relatively good state

One useful measure of the market’s confidence in Japan is the size of the prime minister’s suitcase.

Last summer, Yoshihiko Noda took just four days holiday, as he struggled to win support for a bill to raise taxes. In 2011, with the nation reeling from natural and man-made disasters, Naoto Kan took less than 24 hours.

This year, Shinzo Abe is heading off for about a week-and-a-half. And some investors may see that as the latest in a series of buy signals for the world’s second-biggest equity market.

So far, second-quarter results show companies much happier with the weaker yen that Mr Abe has engineered, with net profits roughly doubling from a year earlier.

This week, the central bank should keep downward pressure on the currency by reiterating its promise to double Japan’s monetary base by the end of next year.

Then, next week, economic data are expected to show that the economy grew by a respectable 0.9 per cent between April and June.

Is all of this already reflected in companies’ share prices?

Perhaps. The Japanese market is trading on a higher multiple of book value than the other Asian markets, which has not happened on a consistent basis since 2001.

But where else do investors go? As Morgan Stanley notes, Japanese companies are beating profit forecasts while those in the rest of the world, bar the US, are missing them. And the Nikkei is still above key resistance levels. Late last month, the index slipped but stayed ahead of its 100-day moving average, as it did in May.

Mr Abe will face plenty of problems on his return – not least, the debate over whether to push ahead with Mr Noda’s tax rise. But, for now, his firm grip on power makes Japan a very different place than in 2007, during his last crack at the premiership. Back then, he managed just one day’s holiday in the mountains.

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