Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Flash! Crossholdings Unwound

In a research report dated 21st of August, 2006, K. Nishiyama of Nomura Securities says: The final figure makes it clear to us companies have finished unwinding their cross-shareholdings. The final figure is the approximately 11% of oustanding market cap (excluding listed subsidiaries/affiliates and the holdings of life & non-life insurance companies) that has held steady at this level (again) as it has for the past calendar years. This is from a peak in 1990 of 50% of outstanding market capitalization (including insurance co's holdings) and 33% which is the amount sympahtetic to the current constant 11%. It took more than a decade and a half, but it's finally done!

So can investors rest easier now? Or even better, can they look forward to the time when managers try to please them, above their affections to other constituents (i.e. management themselves!), as well as non-executive employees, suppliers, customers, and government ministry officialdom? That is an interesting question, for one must remember that there is much overlap here. For while the companies may have shed their holdings, one would be premature to say these holdings have found themselves homes in the hands of stable (or for that matter unstable market-oriented investors. This is because "Government" has not finished intermediating the "great unwinding". Through the DIC (Deposit Insurance Corporation, the BoJ and its affiliates, and Daiko Henjo pension giveback share acquisitions programs, the Government (and thus the people) own quadruple-digit billions of yen worth of shares.

Why should we care about this technical distinction? Investors should care for several reasons. First, these shares are in purgatory. An institutional half-way house, so to speak. Some must be unwound within the next several years. Second, the State of Japan was nearly downgraded by Moody's not long ago, and they've continued to run > 6% per annum fiscal deficits. So although they may not want to sell the proverbial family silver, their accumulated Debt-to-GDP ratio may cause them to sell against their wishes. And remember: these are no small lines of stock, but a vast amount of shares in virtually every enterprise in Japan. Mind you, this is not a prognostication that Japanese shares will be going lower any time soon (though I do not preclude this from happening), but rather to take such "All Clear!!" proclaimations with a touch of skepticism.

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