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Mixed week ahead for industry

By Gary Schaefer and Yuzo Yamaguchi

Japanese stocks may be mixed this week, as banks fall on concern political turmoil in Indonesia may ripple through regional markets, while railroads rise on buying by defensive-minded investors.

Banks such as Sanwa Bank are likely to tumble as investors worry that intensifying anti-government disturbances in Indonesia will pull down currencies around Asia, making it harder for regional borrowers to repay their loans. That could increase the Japanese financial industry's already crushing burden of problem loans, estimated at $574bn (pounds 352bn).

"Banks haven't even begun to clean up the mess at home," said Yoshio Inamura, fund manager at Tokyo-Mitsubishi Asset Management. "If Asia panics, they're really going to be in trouble."

Investors looking for safe havens in a sluggish economy are likely to fall back on domestic leaders such as the Japan Railways group, Nintendo and Olympus, which say they expect to weather the storm thanks to strong overseas sales.

The benchmark index will probably fluctuate in a narrow range between 15,000 and 15,500. In the past week the Nikkei 225 index fell 2.90 per cent, to 15,149.00. The Topix index dropped 2.42 per cent, to 1188.18.

Fallout from Indonesian political turmoil may also hurt trading companies such as Mitsubishi which have extended billions of yen-worth of financing to Asian affiliates. Exporters such as Sony and Nikon may be mixed, as selling by foreign investors on the concern that a weakening yen will cut into their returns is offset by buying by government-linked domestic pension funds.

Japanese bonds are likely to rise, pushing the benchmark yield down to new lows, amid growing confidence that the central bank will hold down interest rates. Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Yutaka Yamaguchi said there is still room to lower interest rates, although he said the bank must consider the negative side of a cut.

"The market still believes the BOJ has room to cut rates," said Hiroshi Sakuma, fixed-income manager at Dai-Ichi Mutal Life Insurance.

Last week, the benchmark government bond yield fell to a record low of 1.285 per cent.

"Bonds probably will remain strong next week because other investors could follow suit," said Takanori Abe, a trader at Mitsui Trust Securities.

Some investors look reluctant to buy bonds with yields at record lows.

"With bonds having attained such a lofty perch, it's hard to be an aggressive buyer," said Atsushi Saito, fund manager at Dai-Ichi Life Asset Management.