The running joke among many investors was that the Land of the Rising Sun had turned into the Land of the Setting Sun.
That was until Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a leaf out of US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke's book and pumped trillions of yen into the Japanese economy. The scheme has become so noteworthy that it even has its own name, Abenomics.
Mr Abe's plan is simply to drive down the yen, reflate asset prices and most of all push up inflation. By driving up the cost of living, or even just the expectation that prices could rise, Mr Abe hopes to encourage Japan's consumers to spend. By doing so he hopes to stimulate the economy back to growth. Abenomics is showing early signs of working.
It has even helped Japanese electronics giant Sony post its first annual profit in five years. Naturally, some UK companies that are still exposed to Japan are hoping to make the most of Japan's economic revival. After all, it is still the third-largest economy in the world. Some though, such as Tesco, have given up on the country. Tesco announced last year that it would exit Japan after nine years.
An economic revival in Japan could augur well for the country's electronics and electrical industry. That could, in turn, bode well for London-listed Chilean copper miner Antofagasta, which derives a third of its sales from Japan. The company's mine, Los Pelambres, which is high up in the Andes, is a joint venture with a Japanese consortium.
Japan's revival may be good news for British American Tobacco, which, despite its name, hardly sells any cigarettes in the UK. Its main markets, instead, are in the Asian Pacific region that includes Japan. The company is expected to report another rise in profits this year with a hike in dividends on the cards too.
HSBC opened its first office in the port city of Yokohama in 1866 and it is still there today, though it may regret its decision to withdraw from retail banking. Nevertheless, it will retain its securities and asset management operations there. Standard Chartered is also present in Japan and it too commenced operations in Yokohama, though some 14 years later than HSBC. Standard Chartered is expected to post a 25 per cent jump in profits this year and a 3 per cent rise the year after, which may be revised if Japan's economic outlook improves significantly.
GlaxoSmithKline has made the unlocking of the geographic potential of its business, especially in emerging markets and Japan, one its three strategic priorities. In the first quarter, revenues from Japan rose 11 per cent, excluding the sales of Cervarix. The company also saw strong sales in respiratory medicines as a result of a strong start to the pollen season.
Reckitt Benckiser sells a number of brands in Japan that include Air Wick, Clearasil, Finish and Durex. However, it was Scholl that the consumer-goods maker singled out as a star performer in Japan. The company said that sales in the fourth quarter in its Latin America and Pacific region grew 27 per cent, thanks to exceptionally strong sales of its footwear and footcare brand in Japan. Scholl was acquired when Reckitt Benckiser bought SSL International in 2010.
David Kuo is director of fool.co.uk
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