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Roundtable: Don't miss the second wave of development for Japanese hedge funds

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In Japan there were two important announcements on the last day of October 2014:

  • Governor Kuroda at the Bank of Japan increased the amount of quantitative easing (Monetary base to be expanded by ¥80 trillion each year, up from ¥60-70 trillion currently)
  • Japan’s large public pension fund announced that it was increasing its equity exposure (A doubling in the allocation to local and foreign stocks to 25% each and a reduction in domestic bonds from 60% to 35%).
Both announcements acted to boost Japanese equities and weaken the Yen. A lower yen is positive for Japanese equities as it improves export earnings.

The fact that these announcements have come in the same week as the U.S. Federal Reserve ended its asset purchase program has given added impetus to the Japanese market moves. Since those announcements, a number of market participants believe that this is the start of a longer trend of strong Japanese equity performance and a weaker yen.

How a “Shame Index” can transform an equity market

Already earlier in 2014, the creation of the Japanese Stewardship Code together with the announcement of the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) to adopt JPX-NIKKEI Index400; a new index which focuses on companies’ ROE, provide additional key stepping stones in Japan’s growth strategy. The 400 companies of which the index is composed are selected on strict financial criteria, including ROE, and must meet specific requirements around the efficient use of capital and investor-focused management.

Insiders have also referred to the index as “shame index”, because it puts shame, a major driver for behavior culturally, on companies that are not included. Money inflow into this new benchmark will therefore stimulate both qualitative and quantitative reform in the Japanese equities market, while the Stewardship Code will contribute to more active engagement with company management, with the ultimate goal of promoting sustainable growth in the corporate sector. Companies in Japan are now actually thinking about providing value for shareholders, or at least they are forced to.

But the currency could be the strongest driver

For the first time in 29 years, since the Plaza Agreement, Japan is not fighting or competing with one arm and one leg tied behind its back. For 80% of the time since the Plaza Accord, the Yen has been more than 20% overvalued relative to the OECD’s estimate of purchasing power parity. This degree of overvaluation gives an idea of the magnitude of the handicap under which Japan has been laboring for almost three decades.

The second wave of development for Japanese hedge funds

Chances are that we may be entering the second wave of development in the Japanese hedge fund space. The first wave was from 2001 through 2005 which not surprisingly was coincidental with the Koizumi prime ministership. Koizumi came to power and quickly established himself as a reform candidate who would go and solve many of Japan’s problems and position Japan for the next hundred years of growth, as the post-World War II economic model was essentially broken.

He failed primarily because significant elements of Japanese society, most particularly within his own party, The Liberal Democratic Party, were not ready for significant structural reform. Believers in the Abenomics story point to the fact that a lot of the change that we are seeing now in Japan is a reflection of plans that were in fact put forward already 10-15 years ago on how to make Japan a better place. What is different now is that the political environment is much more conducive to executing those plans. At the same time, Japanese hedge fund managers today have the most cutting-edge approach to realizing value in a number of different strategies for their investors.

Is Japan is the easiest alpha generation market in the world?

Ed Rogers, whose Japan hedge fund of funds has been up each year (including 5.5% net in 2008) since 2006, except for 2011 (the year of the earthquake and tsunami), believes Japan is “the easiest alpha generation market in the world”. Many of his underlying Japan-only managers have added value and alpha every year, and his team “consistently finds that hedge fund managers are able to execute a variety of strategies leading to positive returns in really almost every single environment,” with a “tremendous expansion in the variety of strategies now being captured in hedge fund form.”

The Opalesque 2014 Japan Roundtable took place end of 2014 in Tokyo with:

  1. Masaki Gotoh, Partner, Misaki Capital
  2. Alexander Kinmont, CEO, Milestone Asset Management
  3. Ed Rogers, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer, Rogers Investment Advisors
  4. Robert Welzel, Partner, WTS
The group also discussed:
  • Value investing and “constructive activism” to reward investors: hundreds and hundreds of Japanese companies can be identified to provide major upside
  • Why not all Japan-focused managers need Abenomics to perform
  • How not get “betrayed” by Japan
  • Why did the GPIF, the second largest pool of retirement savings in the world, decided to invest through the boutique Taiyo Pacific Partners LP and not through a firm like Blackstone, or J.P. Morgan Asset Management
  • How do Japanese and Asian managers deal with AIFM and U.S. regulations?
  • Why could in 10 years “Japan be okay and Europe a disaster”?
Enjoy!

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