By Ken Worsley
Back and Forward is a regular column that takes a slightly irreverent look at some of Japan’s biggest business stories.
Tough first month...
For the entire year of 2007, Japan’s Nikkei index was down 11.1%, closing at 15,307.78 points. However, things didn’t get much better in January, as amidst turmoil in global financial markets, the Nikkei lost 11.2% of its value in the first month of 2008. As the nation’s stock markets declined, the yen continued to gain ground against the dollar, closing around 106.2 at the end of January and causing further nervousness amongst the nation’s exporters.
...and tougher translators
In response to the Minister of Economics and Fiscal Policy, Hiroko Ota’s assertion that Japan may no longer be considered a “first class economy,” Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was quoted by the Nikkei’s English edition as saying, “There are super-duper parts in the economy. But there are also some parts that are not so good. I think Minister Ota ventured to make the remarks to uplift the nation’s spirit.” One wonders if the translation industry is being super-duper with its tongue in cheek...
January saw six fake reports of large share purchases made to the Financial Service Agency’s online disclosure website. According to the reports, Teramento, a Kawasaki-based firm which capitalizes at ¥1,000, had acquired a 51% stake in Toyota, NTT, Sony, Fuji Television, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Astellas Pharma. The combined value of the purchase reported in at ¥20 trillion. The next time someone asks you what it means to buy on margin, tell them about the miracle this little company in Kawasaki pulled with just ¥1,000 to their name!
Speaking of equity stakes—real ones—Mizuho Corporate agreed to buy US$1.2 billion of preferred stock through Merrill Lynch. This spurred some chattering that Japanese banks are “back” as global players, as this was the first time such a large equity stake was taken by a Japanese bank since the end of the bubble. A couple of weeks after, it was announced that Japan’s largest four banking institutions could be facing up to ¥500 billion in losses connected to the subprime issue—with about half of that figure attributed to Mizuho Securities.
Re-branding of the year...
Days after announcing that it would collaborate on developing an Internet-enabled flat screen television with Google and YouTube, electronics giant Matsushita grabbed more headline space by announcing that it would be re-branding itself as Panasonic on a global scale. From October 2008, goods will no longer be shipped under the Matsushita or National brand names. Your next toaster will be a Panasonic.
Blindness might set in before on-demand content finally gets here...
However, the Panasonic/Google/YouTube tie-up raises more questions than it answers. Won’t YouTube clips look even worse on a large screen? Will Panasonic be exposed to accusations of copyright infringement? How will this be profitable and what cut will the writers get? And most importantly, why only YouTube? Why can’t we access the rest of the worldwide web?