Thoughts on Nakagawa and on investing in Japan

Former Japanese Finance Minister Nakagawa should never have been at the press conference that did in his career, and now has the Japanese press gone mad discussing “reputation risk?” It is disturbing that he was even allowed near the table. Equally troubling is how BoJ Governor Shirakawa didn’t preempt some questions, especially the one’s directed at him. Instead of fielding questions, he bobbled, and quite frankly, made himself look ridiculous by association. I would go as far to say that if the Japanese are so concerned about “reputation risk” that the journalists should have done the right thing and helped Nakagawa exit stage right, immediately, after becoming aware of his condition. They could have exposed him on the side or in back, instead of in front of the world.

As for Japanese stocks: I still believe that as a whole, Japanese stocks are being priced fairly by the market. Readers may have noticed how we are now rather quietly approaching last year’s low levels, which are effectively near the post-bubble trough and quarter-century ago levels. Japan may have been first into recession, but it is almost certain not to be first out — in fact, aside from the late-05 to early-07 period, Japan had basically never really exited. The current administration’s proposed economic stimulus for Japan is insignificant and deficient; and a recovery still depends more on a rebound in consumption in the US and EU, something not likely to happen soon enough or meaningful enough. Therefore, I don’t think there is any urgency for intervention to soften the yen. It would be premature. In addition, I see no rush to buy for instance, iShares MSCI Japan Index ETF (EWJ: 7.22 +5.09%). The worst case scenario is the status quo of depressed equities and relative yen strength, a double whammy.

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