What Warren Buffett sees in Japan

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway group has spent $6bn on stakes in five Japanese trading houses, despite other investors souring on the world’s third-biggest economy.

Not for the first time, Warren Buffett is swimming against the tide, says Mike Bird in The Wall Street Journal. Early this month his Berkshire Hathaway group spent $6bn acquiring stakes in five Japanese trading houses. Yet data shows that other foreigners have been souring on the world’s third-biggest economy. 

However, Shinzo Abe, who took office in 2012 and has just resigned, leaves Japan’s markets better than he found them, says The Economist. Lower corporate taxes and a depreciating yen gave a much-needed boost to shaky corporate profits, while reforms to corporate governance have made Japanese managers more responsive to the needs of shareholders. The Topix index has gained more than 82% since he took office. Reforms in Japanese markets have been overshadowed by the dominance of US-listed tech stocks, says Andrew Bary in Barron’s. The country is “more like Germany than the US”, explains Masakazu Takeda of Sparx Asset Management. Japan’s real speciality is its “high-quality industrial businesses”, such as carmaker Toyota and air conditioning supplier Daikin Industries. 

The dominance of these sectors has fed a perception that Japan is not a “sexy” investment, Nicholas Weindling of the JPMorgan Japanese investment trust tells Jeff Prestridge in The Mail on Sunday. But there are plenty of exciting growth companies. GMO Payment Gateway, an electronic payment specialist, and robotics business Keyence offer exposure to key secular growth trends. Moreover, on a cyclically adjusted price/earnings ratio of 19.4 the market looks reasonably valued. For British income seekers weary of the FTSE dividend axe, a 2.4% average dividend yield backed up by robust balance sheets looks especially appealing. 

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