JIN-158 -- Japan to Ease Bankruptcy Laws

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the week's business and technology news

Issue No. 158
Wednesday, November 21, 2001


** Viewpoint: Japan to Ease Bankruptcy Laws
+ Noteworthy news
- ADSL Subscribers Surpass 920,000 in October
- Softbank Posts Bleak First-Half Numbers
- Government Set to Announce Second Extra Budget
+ Events

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** VIEWPOINT: Japan to Ease Bankruptcy Laws

While the number of companies going bankrupt is rapidly rising,
whether to go bankrupt or or take a night flight and quietly
disappear, which the Japanese call [[yonige]], is still a big
question for owners of wrecked companies in Japan. The Japanese
government is considering revising bankruptcy laws so as to get
owners of insolvent companies to file for bankruptcy protection
instead of escaping.

A total of 405 companies in Japan went bankrupt in October, reaching
a record high in the postwar era, according to Teikoku Data Bank, a
private research company specializing in corporate finance. The number
of corporate collapses has been breaking historical records over the
past few months, surpassing 300 this March.

What are the legal rights of business owners that file for bankruptcy
protection in Japan? They are allowed to keep 210,000 yen, a two
month reserve of food and fuel, and a few personal belongings that
are necessary for daily life, according to current Japanese
bankruptcy laws and regulations.

These laws are much harder on owners than similar laws in the US.
Although laws and regulations differ from state to state, company
owners in the US are usually allowed to keep a car, more cash, and
their house (as long as they actually live in it).

A Justice Ministry official admits that the laws and regulations are
out of date and too harsh. The regulation on the minimum amount of
cash an owner of a failed company can keep hasn't been revised since
it was originally decided upon in 1980, says an official at the
ministry. In order to deal with the increase of bankruptcies and
to help out those who need help the most, the government is planning
a comprehensive revision of the bankruptcy laws sometime in fiscal
2002 or 2003.

Some change is already on the way. While Japan's bad economy is
obviously the cause of many recent bankruptcies, a lower fee for
bankruptcy applications also contributes to the rise, says Teikoku
Data Bank's senior researcher Takatomo Nakagawa. For example, the
Tokyo District Court lowered the minimum charge for filing a
bankruptcy case to JPY200,000 from JPY500,000 in April 2000.
(This rule only applies for companies with a certain amount of debt,
and it doesn't apply to companies in other cities; most Japanese
courts still charge JPY500,000 to file for bankruptcy protection).
"Those who need to file a corporate bankruptcy are usually bankrupt
personally as well. They couldn't afford to pay that much just to
file," Nakagawa says.

Although it is good to hear Japan is becoming a more bankruptcy-
friendly country, economic recovery is still the fastest way to
reduce the rising number of corporate collapses.

-- Sumie Kawakami


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** ADSL Subscribers Surpass 920,000 in October

Extract: The number of asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL)
users in Japan soared in October to 921,867. That is a gain of nearly
300,000 from September figures, or about 10,000 new subscribers
everyday. NTT East and West provide ADSL services to just over half
that figure, with a slew of other competitors, including Yahoo! BB,
fighting for the rest.

Commentary: When you consider that in January, there were only about
16,000 ADSL subscribers in Japan, this really has been the Year of
Broadband. Japan still has the world's cheapest ADSL fees, which is
fueling this rapid rise.

One odd side note: Engineering students at Tokyo University recently
told us that if your neighbor has an integrated services digital
network (ISDN) line and you have an ADSL line, the two may battle
each other, making your ADSL connections sluggish. This really is a
battle of technologies! But with ADSL faster and cheaper, it's just a
matter of time before we say sayonara to ISDN.

Ministry of Public Management, Posts and Telecommunications

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** Softbank Posts Bleak First-Half Numbers

Extract: Softbank posted a loss of 54.3 billion yen for the fiscal
first half through September and expects a loss for the year through
March. The red ink was triggered by a loss of 36 billion yen in the
overseas investment business. It was the first time Softbank has
reported a loss for the fiscal first half. In the first six months
of fiscal 2000, it reported a 36.3 billion yen profit.

Commentary: Softbank is leaning heavily on Yahoo! BB and its
asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL) services to pull the
group out of the mire. Yahoo! BB instigated the current ADSL price
war in Japan when it slashed prices this summer, but many analysts
are skeptical about its future prospects. Masayoshi Son, for now,
is banking on it.

From Softbank's Web site:

** Government Set to Announce Second Extra Budget

Extract: Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has given his finance
minister, Masajuro Shiokawa, the go ahead to consider a second
supplementary budget for fiscal 2001, which runs through March. The
new budget is expected to amount to 2 trillion yen. Government
officials say it could be drawn up as early as the end of this year.

Parliament just approved the first supplementary budget, worth
3 trillion yen, last week.

Commentary: This puts Koizumi's pledge to cap new government bond
issuances in fiscal 2001 at 30 trillion yen on thin ice. One group of
government officials has proposed the selling off of national
property to raise revenue, but they are in the minority. Look for
the prime minister to start back-peddling on his promise and look for
the Sept. 11 attacks in the US to take much of the blame.

From the Financial Times:

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IMNs Inaugural Summit on Japanese Corporate Restructuring & Recovery
(December 11-12, Tokyo) will bring together Japanese corporations
from diverse sectors, leading institutional investors, investment
bankers and consultants and lawyers from Japan and abroad. The
Summit will focus on restructuring, M&A, alternative financing, and
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Written by Bruce Rutledge (bruce@japaninc.com) and Sumie Kawakami

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