Anyone invested in Japanese stocks took notice when the country's minister of state for economic and fiscal policy, Akira Amari, said at a Yokohama meeting that he hopes the government takes steps to push shares of the Nikkei 225 up about 17% to 13,000.
"I would like the government to take successive steps to push share prices higher,"Amari said Saturday. "Higher share prices work to improve corporate earnings. It is important for the government to show that it will work hard to aim at having the [Nikkei 225] index hit 13,000 by the end of the fiscal year in March."
Amari also noted the Nikkei was up more than 2,000 points since former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the dissolution of the Diet in November. In fact, the Nikkei 225 Stock Averagelast week closed at its highest since September 2008 after a 12-week advance that was the longest such streak since 1959, according to Nikkei Inc.
Articles in the English-language press misidentified Amari as minister of finance - a position held by former Prime Minister Taro Aso - making the comments seem more like official government policy.
Of course, no one in the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be upset if Amari turns out to be correct. Higher share prices are good for the economy and for achieving the government's aim of ending the deflationary spiral in Japan - and good for anyone who owns Japanese stocks.
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Japanese Stocks Are Up, But Don't Fall for the Trap
Japanese stocks hit a new 2012 high today (Wednesday) and the yen weakened to a 20-month low against the U.S. dollar as Shinzo Abe was installed as Japan's 96th prime minister.
Abe, who served as prime minister in 2006-2007 but stepped down due to health issues, has vowed to pursue aggressive monetary easing to end deflation and get the Japanese economy growing again.
But the long-term implications of Abe's policies aren't as rosy as the short-term stocks boost.
"The hope is that Abe's promises of fresh stimulus, unlimited spending and placing a priority on domestic infrastructure will be the elixir that restores Japan's global muscle," said Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald. "As a veteran global trader who actually lives in Japan part time each year, and who has for the last 20+ years, let me make a counterpoint with particular force -don't fall for it."
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Investing in Japan: Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Most people have given up on investing in Japan.
With an aging population and far too much government debt, the conventional wisdom is that Japan will never again see the vigorous economic growth it once enjoyed.
The earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 only reinforced this view. However, that tragic episode did have another side.
It showed the resilience and discipline of Japanese society.
There was almost no looting, for example -- and recent economic data suggest that the Japanese economy is not as dead as it seemed.
First quarter Japanese gross domestic product (GDP) came in at an annual growth rate of 4.1% --far higher than the United States, Canada, Australia, or anywhere in the Eurozone.
Given that Japan has been in perpetual near-recession for 21 years, with no surges of productivity like the U.S. enjoyed in the late 1990s, it's really not a bad performance.
You can also see Japan's true strength from its exchange rate, which is currently 79 yen to the dollar, up from around 120 five years ago. That makes visiting Tokyo very expensive.
However, it's also sign of a highly competitive economy.
Investing in Japan: What You Need to KnowIt's notable that observers in the United States, a country which perpetually runs payment deficits of $500 billion-$600 billion annually, sneer at the economies of Japan and Germany, which are almost always in surplus.
Before 1995, I lived in another economy that was similar. Britain ran deficits much like the U.S. does.
So believe me when I tell you, deficits are not exactly a sign of superior economic health.
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