Coronavirus, climate change boost air-conditioner sales in Japan

While many in the US have been putting their govt checks into stocks, droves of Japanese workers stuck at home are looking to keep themselves cool


TOKYO • Companies worldwide are beset by the very near-term threat of coronavirus and long-term spectre of climate change. Japan’s air-conditioning giant Daikin Industries Ltd might be one of the few companies that stand to bene t from both.

Nearing a market value of ¥5 trillion (RM200 billion), the world’s largest maker of air-conditioners is riding an almost uninterrupted eight-year streak, which has seen its shares surge more than 700%. It is now the 19th largest stock on the Topix Index, worth more than Japan’s second-largest megabank. The stock has also beaten the broader index by 15 percentage points this year.

The outperformance is helped by a sharp increase in interest in ventilation. Suddenly, everyone wants to know how air-conditioners work and how they can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As Japan enters its peak summer season for air conditioner instals, Daikin has been heavily advertising its latest model complete with the timely and unique ability to bring air from outside indoors.

With the pandemic turning everyone in germophobes, many consumers have been surprised to learn that most air-conditioners only circulate air indoors — heat, not air, is moved outside. Daikin’s Urusara X is different, with technology that allows it to bring in fresh air from outside. The company says it is the only model with this ability. “However, it doesn’t remove air indoors to the outside,” a Daikin spokesman cautions. He recommends using it in combination with periodically opening windows. Daikin, with an 18% share of the country’s residential air-conditioner market, has seen an increase in demand for the air conditioners, he said.

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The most popular type of the model on Japan’s largest price-comparison site retails for a hefty ¥180,000, equipped with Daikin’s virus-killing air-purification technology.

Daikin is also thought to be a beneficiary of Japan’s long-delayed government handouts — ¥100,000 a person. While many in the US have been putting their government checks into trading stocks on Robinhood, droves of Japanese workers stuck at home — often in rooms not equipped with air-conditioners — are looking to keep themselves cool.

Japan was once dominant in the global market for the so-called white goods such as washing machines and refrigerators. Air-conditioners are now the mar- ket where Japanese firms are strongest, said Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute chief strategist Masayuki Kubota.

Daikin has sales in over 150 countries, boosted by more than 100 manufacturing sites, which became advantageous when global logistics lines were disrupted by the coronavirus lockdowns.

Seizing Share

The company’s management team, led by president Masanori Togawa, has impressed with its quick response to the pandemic. At its earnings teleconference, Daikin unveiled an exhaustive set of steps aimed at capitalising on the pandemic and seizing market share in a post-Covid-19 world, which met with almost universal acclaim from analysts.

“The firm’s competitive position could be even stronger in the post-Covid world,” wrote SMBC Nikko analysts Taku Ouchi and Asuka Sasao.

Still, the company’s forecasts for this year — ¥150 billion in operating profit from 2.33 trillion revenue — are well below the targets it set in a mid-term plan in 2018, leaving it much work to do to hit its goals.

“We are watching how they will correct course in the post-Covid-19 world,” said Tokai Tokyo Research Institute Co analyst Masahiko Ishino. “Now is the time to lay the groundwork to solidify the position of global number one.”