Japan Inflation Watch

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It’s been a long time coming… 27 years in the case of a well known soft drinks company. Japan’s top Coca-Cola distributor recently announced that they will be increasing prices by between 6% and 10% as soon as April this year. (article here) They are certainly not the only ones, as spring will see price increases in many of your favourite restaurants, as well as on specific foods such as instant ramen, canned mackerel and even ice cream! Coupled with the planned October increase in sales tax from 8-10% this means that your yen isn’t going to go as far as it has for the last three decades.

This will come as a shock to the Japanese public and long-time Japan residents. We’ve all got used to the size of food and drink portions getting incrementally smaller, so called “shrinkflation”, but it’s really quite a jolt to see the actual price of things going up. Even my barber is raising his prices from next month!

What is this going to mean for us all financially? Well, put simply, the massive debt bubble created by the Bank of Japan means we are unlikely to see a rise in interest rates any time soon. So, money languishing in our Japanese bank accounts is going to be losing spending power. I have talked about base currency over and over, but it still bears repeating: If you are planning to spend the money you make in Japan in the UK, then UK inflation is your minimum benchmark for investments. Holding cash in JPY at zero interest in this case means you are not only losing spending power in your base currency, but taking currency risk as well. Up until now, if you were planning to spend the money in Japan, then holding JPY cash was both safe, and good enough to at least preserve your spending power. Regardless of what government inflation statistics might say, this is clearly no longer the case.

So what action should Japan residents be taking here? Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Review your base currency / currencies – if you are saving to pay for your kids education overseas, or your retirement abroad, you should be saving and investing in the currency you are planning to spend the money in. JPY cash is not the place to be.
  2. That said, if you live and work in Japan, your emergency cash reserve should be in JPY. (unless losing your job would mean leaving Japan immediately)
  3. If you have a future need for JPY as a base currency, you are going to lose spending power in JPY cash / bonds – this means you will have to take some risk with some of your money.
  4. One way to do this would be to look for dividend paying stocks / ETFs. Here is an interesting list of dividend paying ETFs in Japan. Google translate does a pretty good job on this. Remember that you should be looking at the Japan stocks / REITS – anything that invests in overseas assets, like emerging market bonds, carry currency risk that could wipe out your actual return.
  5. You could also consider a diversified Japan fund manager. I invest part of my NISA in Rheos Hifumi Plus, which is one of the most popular NISA investment funds in Japan. (this is not a sales pitch – just what I do)

I hope this helps. Please do get in touch with any interesting price increases you notice here in Japan.

Disclaimer: This should go without saying, but the information contained in this blog is not investment advice, or an incentive to invest, and should not be considered as such. This is for information only.

2019 Investment Outlook

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Wow is it February already? Apologies that this is a little late, but after a family holiday it’s been a slow start to the year. 2018 marked the arrival of our first child, so it’s been easy, and fun, to take my eye off the ball a little. However, it is time to get back to business, not to mention getting the house in order! I’ve seen a lot of talk recently about the Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”, so perhaps we should make de-cluttering our theme for this post.

So how was 2018 for you? From an investment perspective there was little joy being sparked no matter where you looked. In a year where much of the talk was about the prospects for a continuing bull market in stocks, actual returns were rather bearish. We never really got the crash that many predicted, but we saw a significant correction in February, and a rather painful last quarter where most stock indices dropped double digits.

Some rough numbers for 2018: The S&P 500 finished -6.2%, Euro Stocks were around -13%, Japan -12%, Emerging markets -17%. Gold ended the year strongly but was still down around 2% for the year. Oil fell some 40% from its previous high, losing almost 25% for the year. Furthermore, as interest rates rose, bonds prices fell too. There were not many places to hide in 2018. (let’s not even talk about that crypto portfolio…)

So what can we expect in 2019? Depending on how much information you are able to digest, Bloomberg has compiled a monster article of Wall Street predictions here.

Sticking with the idea of de-cluttering though, here is a short list of key themes:

  • The end of the bull cycle is getting nearer, but it is not here yet.
  • Investors, however, are likely to behave as if the end is right around the corner (this means continued volatility)
  • The US Federal Reserve will continue to normalise rates.
  • The Bank of Japan will continue its accommodative monetary policy.
  • The outcome of trade negotiations with China will be the main driver of USD strength / weakness. (perhaps we’ll see a weaker USD vs. JPY?)
  • Brexit will not have as big an effect on global markets as many commentators make out. (just my personal opinion here)
  • There is, perhaps, excessive pessimism with regard to Japanese stocks. With the end of the Heisei era, and subsequent celebration of the new era, a growing influx of foreign tourists, the Rugby World Cup later this year and the upcoming 2020 Olympics, we could see a real buzz that will be good for business.

So how should you plan your personal investment strategy for 2019? Again let’s keep it simple:

  • Have a plan! Read this post if you don’t have one.
  • Stick to your guns. Don’t let the noise divert you from your commitment to saving and investing.
  • Diversify and rebalance – review your asset allocation.
  • Max out tax advantaged investments such as NISA.
  • Look for Japan stocks that are likely to benefit from the buzz of the next two years.

With that I wish you all the best for 2019. Hope it is filled with things that spark joy!

Disclaimer: This should go without saying, but the information contained in this blog is not investment advice, or an incentive to invest, and should not be considered as such. This is for information only.