While Japanese stocks have for years has yielded little for investors, some top value investors are keen on the country.
In a column for SmartMoney, Brett Arends writes that Japan’s “stock market is cheap. Possibly very cheap — at a time when nearly everything else looks pricey. The Nikkei 225, Japan’s major stock market index, trades at just 10 times forecast earnings. The dividend yield is up to 2.3 percent — a hefty amount in a country with zero inflation. … Japanese equities today trade for half of annual revenues, according to FactSet. (The figure for the U.S.: 1.2 times revenues.) And they trade for less than book value, while U.S. stocks trade for twice book.”
That, Arends says, has led some top value managers to load up on Japanese stocks. One is Charles de Vaulx of International Value Advisers. More than 40% of his IVA International A fund’s stock holdings are in Japanese companies, according to Morningstar.com. De Vaulx and others have noted that many Japanese stocks are actually cheaper than they seem on the surface, “because so many Japanese companies are sitting on piles of cash they can use to shore themselves up if the economy gets rocky,” Arends writes.
“There are literally hundreds of stocks like this in Japan,” Josh Strauss of the Appleseed mutual fund tells Arends. About 17% of Appleseed’s stock holdings are in Japanese firms — vs. less than a tenth of one percent for the average fund in its category, according to Morningstar. “What this tells me is that you don’t have a lot of downside risk,” Strauss says. Arends does note that Strauss has hedged the fund’s exposure to the yen, which he thinks will fall vs. the dollar.
Oakmark’s David Herro also remains bullish on Japan, according to Morningstar data. His Oakmark International I fund has about 25% of its stock investments in Japanese companies, well above its category average.