Japan has faced a series of crises during the past six weeks: earthquakes, a tsunami and a continuing nuclear leakage challenge. We marvel at the people of Japan who have faced the disasters with a sense of calm and hope for recovery. The Nikkei Average quickly fell 21 per cent following the earthquake and subsequently regained three-quarters of the decline in anticipation of a rebound in Japan's economy. Is now the time to invest in Japan in anticipation of an economic recovery or will a better opportunity arrive at a later date?
Investing in individual Japanese stocks at present is a challenge. Full impact of the disaster remains unknown. Some companies are not expected to become fully operational for weeks or months. Others are expected to benefit from the recovery. The easiest way to invest in Japan is through Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) that track the performance of a basket of stocks.
Six ETFs trading on North American equity markets track a basket of broadly based Japanese securities. Each ETF has unique characteristics.
The best known and most liquid Japanese ETF is iShares on the MSCI Japan Index Fund . The fund holds 323 big-cap equity positions listed on Japanese exchanges. It closely tracks the Nikkei Average with its 225 equity positions. Management expense ratio is 0.54 per cent.
iShares also sponsors an ETF, the MSCI Japan Small Cap Index Fund . The fund holds 656 small-cap equity positions listed on Japanese exchanges. Management expense ratio is 0.53 per cent. Units are thinly traded
iShares also sponsors an ETF, the S&P TOPIX 150 Index Fund . Units track Japan's TOPIX Index, the second best known Japanese equity index. The Index holds 150 big cap stocks listed on Japanese exchanges. Sector weights are remarkably similar to sector weights in the iShares MSCI Japan Index Fund. Industrials have a slightly heavier weight and consumer discretionary; financial services and information technology sectors have a slightly lighter weight. Management expense ratio is 0.50 per cent.
State Street Global Investors offers the SPDR Russell/Nomura PRIME Japan Fund ETF . The fund is capitalization weighted and holds 400 big-cap stocks listed on Japanese exchanges. Management expense ratio is 0.50 per cent. Units are thinly traded.
State Street Global Investors also offers the SPDR Russell/Nomura Small Cap Japan Fund ETF . The Fund holds 400 small-cap stocks listed on Japanese exchanges. Management expense ratio is 0.55 per cent. Units are thinly traded.
Claymore Investments Canada offers the Claymore Japan Fundamental Index Fund Canadian Dollar Hedged ETF . The fund holds 222 big-cap stocks listed on Japanese exchanges. Sector weights are slightly higher than the MSCI Japan Index Fund in the consumer discretionary sector and slightly lower in the industrial, financial services and information technology sectors. Units trade on the Toronto Exchange in Canadian dollars. Management expense ratio is 0.65 per cent plus tax. Units are thinly traded.
The Nikkei Average has a history of moving higher from mid-November to the end of April. Average return per period during the past 20 periods 7.2 per cent. From the end of April to the middle of November, the average has consistently has moved lower during the past 20 periods.
On the charts, the Nikkei Average has a mixed technical profile. It found resistance during the past three weeks near its 50-day moving average, currently at 9,808. Strength relative to the S&P 500 Index has been neutral during this period. Short-term momentum indicators are neutral.
The preferred strategy is to stay away from Japanese equities and related ETFs until November, when seasonal influences turn positive and reconstruction efforts start to ramp up.
Don Vialoux is the author of free daily reports on equity markets, sectors, commodities and Exchange Traded Funds. He is also a research analyst for JovInvestment Inc. Reports are available at www.timingthemarket.ca and www.equityclock.com. Follow him on Twitter @EquityClock.