Japan’s Nikkei 225 Touches 30,000 for First Time Since 1990

by BLOOMBERG/ file pix by AFP

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average briefly topped 30,000 yen for the first time since August 1990, as it continued its charge back up through levels not seen since the collapse of the bubble economy.

The gauge rose as much as 1.6% on Monday, amid signs an economic recovery is intact at home and hopes of progression in U.S. stimulus talks. While equities globally have hit new heights in recent months, the Nikkei 225 still needs to gain almost another 30% to surpass its record of 38,915.87 yen.

That was reached in the final trading session of 1989, before the index went on to lose more than half its value in three years after the economic bubble burst.

The brief breach of the 30,000 shows that “all sorts of investors are jumping in to buy Japanese equities with a totally bullish view,” said Shoji Hirakawa, chief global strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute Co.

That view was affirmed Monday when Japan announced that gross domestic product grew an annualized 12.7% from the prior quarter in the three months through December, as exports continued to rebound and government stimulus fueled consumer spending despite the coronavirus.

The continued economic growth is one factor contributing to the strength in Japanese equities, according to Nikko Asset Management Co. chief global strategist John Vail, who hailed strong export and private capex data. Japan’s reasonable valuations compared to those during the bubble era, as well as improved profits and shareholder returns, are also strengths, he said.

“There are always doubters who perennially point to demographics,” said Vail, “but such has not prevented tremendous growth in corporate earnings, including such from Japan’s extensive global manufacturing bases.”

Foreign Buyers

Foreign investors turned net buyers in cash and futures equities for the first time in four weeks, purchasing about 856 billion yen ($8.2 billion) during the week ended Feb. 5, according to data from Japan Exchange Group.

Foreigners, who offloaded more than $59 billion of local stocks last year, are expected to turn net buyers in 2021 as the economic recovery picks up globally, making export-reliant Japan attractive.

“We’re in a globally risk-on environment, but the particular strength in Japanese equities speaks to appetite for stocks sensitive to business cycles and value stocks,” said
Shogo Maekawa, a strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management in Tokyo. “Foreigners may be re-evaluating Japanese equities.”

A ratio of the Nikkei 225 and the S&P 500 has been on the rise after hitting a bottom in September in another indication of foreign interest, particularly over U.S. equities.

The Nikkei 225 hit a high of 30,006.46 on Monday before paring gains. The broader Topix rose 1%, touching a fresh post-1991 high.

Takeo Kamai, head of execution services at CLSA Securities Japan Co., said whether the Nikkei 225 makes a convincing break out of the 30,000 mark will depend on how U.S. equities perform in the coming days as the domestic market lacks a catalyst of its own.

“The move feels very futures-driven,” he said. The S&P 500 ended last week at an all-time high ahead of a three-day weekend, adding more than 1% for the week.

Further Upside

Like the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nikkei 225 is a price-weighted measure. The two highest-weighted stocks, Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing Co. and SoftBank Group Corp., make up almost 19% of the gauge and as such have an outsized impact on its movements.

Both of those stocks have surged in the past year, benefiting from the pandemic and the latter from Masayoshi Son’s record-breaking buybacks.

The price-weighted nature of the index has attracted criticism over the years for failing to accurately reflect the state of Japan’s equity market. It is also notable for its lack of some of Japan’s biggest stocks, including gaming giant Nintendo Co. and robotic automation specialist Keyence Corp.

The Nikkei 500, a gauge that contains these two firms, passed its bubble-era peak in September and has continued to hit fresh records since.

Still, many analysts including JPMorgan Asset’s Maekawa see further upside in Japanese equities in the near term.

“From now toward summer, the effects of economic measures will kick in in the U.S., while economic normalization is in sight for the U.S. and Japan through the distribution of vaccines,” Maekawa said.

“A rise in equities, driven by better corporate earnings, is likely to continue. Under these circumstances, we’re likely to see Japan outperform.”