Japan

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes

How stupid can one be to lick the top of an ice cream punnet and put it back on the shelf? Well she faces up to $10,000 fine and/or 20 years prison for ‘malicious food tampering.

Although the Japanese have found lots of similar numbskulls (often staff) which has been termed ‘baito tero’ (casual staff terrorism). Such disgusting acts have been conducted in some famous restaurant brands.

Sukiya is a famous Japanese fast food restaurant which serves beef rice bowls like Yoshinoya and Matsuya. One chef put the soup ladle to his crotch.

Or sushi restaurant, Kurazushi which competes with chains like Sushiro. A chef threw raw fish into a rubbish bin, retrieved it and put back on the chopping board. It is unsure if it was served or not.

Or the Big Echo karaoke chain staff member who put fried chicken on the floor before putting in the deep fryer.

Or a Family Mart cashier who licked products before putting into a bag. Family Mart is a famous convenience store chain in Japan like 7-ELEVEN and Lawson.

Or an izakaya restaurant where staff washed socks in an industrial dishwasher.

Sadly, idiocy is a global phenomenon.

Vacant homes in Japan hit 8.46m

8.46m homes or 13.6% of all dwellings are vacant in Japan in 2018. This is up 3.2% on 2017 according to the Housing & Land Survey. CM wrote about the population exodus from regional areas in Japan in this report.

Vacancy rates in Wakayama, Tokushima, and Kagoshima prefectures stand at 18.8%, 18.6%, and 18.4% respectively, areas suffering population exodus. Tokyo, Kanazawa (Yokohama), Okinawa and Saitama, all experiencing net migration inflows, have the lowest rates of unoccupied houses.

Yubari City in Hokkaido has a campaign poster – “No money but love.

Yubari is notable for five things. First, it is the region that produces Japan’s most expensive melons, the type you see beautifully encased in a satin-lined pine box with a price label of US$200. Second, it had to declare bankruptcy in 2007. Third, its population has fallen from 117,000 in the 1960s to around 21,000 in the 1990s to less than 8,900 today, falling 19% in the last 5 years alone. Fourth, the average age of the city’s residents is set to hit 65 by 2020. Fifth, taxable income continues to fall with estimates that government coffers will swell by a woozy 25% of the levels seen 20 years ago.

Not a good sign for the regional economies. Japan has a stall speed warning and the government plans to fix it are painfully inadequate.

Japan lets in 42 refugees in 2018

Japan Refugee.png

Japan is often criticised for its ‘heartless’ stance on refugees. Last year, the country let in only 42 refugees or 0.4% of those that applied for asylum. In 2009, 1,389 applications were made with 30 refugees granted status. In 2017, 20 positions were granted despite applications peaking at 19,629. Last year 10,493 applications had been made. Japan is not a signatory to the UN Global Compact on Migration.

Japan is probably one of the most successful monocultures around. 98% of the population is Japanese. It has low crime, next to no religious-based terrorism and takes a stance that all foreigners should assimilate with the culture or they will be sent home for non-compliance that breaks local laws. Japan is not interested in virtue signaling. Social justice warriors who hurl insults ignore the importance Japan places on protecting its societal values.

CM wrote last week how Germany is suffering from growing civil disruption for not protecting the culture. Japan has similar demographical challenges as Germany but the former is looking for solutions that point to more robotics and highly selective screening.

Japan still has issues with crime but the government understands that the citizens do not want a disruption to the status quo. Having lived there for 20 years it is patently obvious why they have no interest in an open doors policy.

To learn more about crime in Japan refer to:

Pensioner Crime

Breakdown in the nuclear family

Yakuza

Terrorism in Japan

Nippon Carbon – hidden black diamond

Nippon Carbon (5302) is a hidden gem. CM stumbled over this company in 2012. A decade prior to this, one of the commercial jet engine makers spoke of a new space age technology on the horizon. He mentioned there was a secret sauce that went in to make ceramic matrix composites (CMC). However, because of the secretive nature of R&D, the supplier wasn’t disclosed. So 12 years after that meeting and years of trying to hunt down this miracle ingredient, CM stumbled into meet Nippon Carbon to discuss its mainline graphite electrodes business. In the lobby, a dusty glass trophy cabinet revealed a mysterious cotton reel with black fibres wrapped around it (pic above).

Needless to say on application, the investor relations director told CM it was Hi-Nicalon which goes into CMC! Bingo. Forget the mainstay graphite electrodes! CM found the missing link. In the process, he told CM that the company had spent 40 (yes, forty) years developing it. Who does that? Only in Japan. What the material does is enable jet engines to burn hotter which means longer life, more efficiency with fewer emissions and lower weight. Win, win, win, win.

CFM International (GE/Safran JV) has 8,000 jets (16,000 engines) in the order book. Nippon Carbon’s JV to make Hi-Nicalon was lifted 10 fold in recent years to 10 tons (full capacity will be hit this year) and GE has licensed another 100% capacity increase from Nippon Carbon to produce locally in the US. It is black gold of another dimension.

What is often underestimated, is that passing new technology in commercial aerospace is way harder than seeking new drug approval in the pharmaceutical world. A new drug might have drowsiness as a side effect. A jet engine can’t have that level of failure risk. So now that this product is already flying in the B737 MAX and A320neo, the technology will be rolled out on all new commercial jets from this point. The next generation Boeing 777x will sport Hi-Nicalon in its GENx engines which will use about 5x the material than a B737. 340 orders for the B777x have already been placed by airlines. Deliveries begin in May 2020. GE will be the only engine choice on 777x.

Nippon Carbon is the sole CMC source ingredient producer for GE, the world’s largest jet-engine/turbine maker. The wonderful part about that is the fact that no substitutes will replace it. There are no competitors because in aerospace, quality of material matters. Only source suppliers get a look in. Nippon Carbon owns 50% of the NGS Advanced Fibers business where Hi Nicalon sits. GE & Safran own 25% each of the remainder. 

Ube Industries (4208) has Tyranno-fiber and is partnered with Rolls-Royce. Yet it is tiny part inside a business dominated by construction cement.

Nippon Carbon shares were hit hard the day before 1Q earnings on the back of a downward revision by competitor Tokai Carbon (5301). This is what happens when stocks have no official stockbroker coverage and get tarred by having “Carbon” in the name.

Nippon Carbon’s 1Q results came out after the close the following day, reporting a 46% increase in sales vs last year and a 168% increase in EPS. Full-year earnings were left unchanged.

Nippon Carbon mentioned tougher pricing position in graphite electrodes like Tokai Carbon, but the volume side appears healthier. It would not disclose customers but said demand was still healthy.

Sadly, disclosure is not a strong point of many Japanese companies and Nippon Carbon is no exception. Yet Japanese retail investors get hysterical over homegrown technology winding its way onto globally famous products. Toray (3402), the massive textile manufacturer, signed an exclusive supply contract with Boeing for the 787’s carbon fibre needs. The share price did the following. The slump came on the back of GFC.

Toray Chart.png

Toray’s stock trebled. Carbon fibre was only 12% of its earnings at the time. It is around 20% today. The rest of the Toray business was low margin textiles. Buying Toray to get exposure to 787 was like buying a fruitcake to get some raisins.

Osaka Titanium

Osaka Titanium Technologies (5726) had an even more bonkers reaction to the 787 which was loaded with titanium parts. Coupled with a global production shortage of titanium sponge and sharply higher contract prices, OTT shares jumped 28x! From relative obscurity, the stock became the most liquid stock in Japan. This is what happens when the small-cap retail lunatics are running the asylum.

5302.png

Based on Nippon Carbon’s FY2019 EPS forecast of ¥1,148 it trades on a 3.6x PE ratio. It trades below replacement cost and invested capital. CM thinks that if it manages to hit 20t of Hi-Nicalon by 2020 its EPS could approach ¥1353. That would put it on 3.05x.  Writing in an Armageddon scenario (literally nuking the core graphite electrode business) of ¥210 EPS the stock would be trading at a trough 19.6x. Normally industrials in a downturn would face losses or 50-100x multiples. 

To be honest its biggest problem is that the Nippon Carbon has such woeful marketing of itself. A visit to its Tokyo HQ reveals a 1950s lobby. It doesn’t spend a lick on itself which is also a relief. No frills. It is a proper engineering company. Unlike Toray and Osaka Titanium (at the time), Nippon Carbon has no official broker coverage meaning it remains in obscurity.

Hi-Nicalon is truly revolutionary. It is a once in half-a-century product. It will become the defacto standard jet engine material. At the moment it stands at around 5% of revenue and minimal profit as it ramps up but by next year it could be as high as 15-16% in a few years, which maybe conservative. Depending on the demand for aircraft, it may head higher. It is worth noting at the time of GFC, airlines many upgraded to more efficient aircraft to lower operating costs. Leasing companies obliged. That isn’t to say that Nippon Carbon is isolated by any means but the product itself is unique which provides relative stability.

Worth taking a long hard look at the story. This is a game changer material. We only need for the retail investor to cotton on to this story and let the Pride of Nippon push it to absurd valuations. We have the history of Toray and Osaka Titanium. At 3.6x it is already at absurd valuations (just at the opposite end).

Japan has the best drink driving laws – socialized punishment

NSW Police will take away one’s license for breaking drink-driving laws (even at low end) after May 20.

Japan has the best method of all. The driver is fined up to ¥1,000,000 ($14,000) and up to 5 years jail. Passengers are fined up to ¥500,000 ($7,000) and up to 5 years each for allowing the same person to drive while intoxicated. Socialized responsibility!

In 1993 Japan had 1,480 excess alcohol related road fatalities. In 2017 it was 213 (-85%). Against total road deaths of 10,650 and 3,904 respectively. Therefore drink driving fell from 14% to 5.5% of all road deaths in Japan.

In 1993 there were around 80 fatalities in NSW. In 2017 it was 42. Perhaps a socialized drink driving fine schedule would cut it further than just losing one’s license. Against total road deaths NSW had 581 and 405 respectively. Or 14% to 10% of all road mortalities over the same period.

STAY IN YOUR LANE!!!

Since when did the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) become an axe on climate change? Next thing we will see is 16yo Greta Thunberg, of school climate strike fame, adorning APRA releases and annual reports. APRA should stay in its lane as the only disaster on the horizon will be self inflicted.

In the AFR today, it was reported that the financial services sector regulator said, “there is no excuse for inaction on climate change, warning there is a high degree of certainty that financial risks will materialize as a result of a warming climate.”

APRA noted that only 1 in 5 companies are meeting voluntary climate risk disclosure targets which are set out by the Task Force in Climate-related Financial Disclosures, a private sector body chaired by none other than global warming alarmist Michael Bloomberg.

What in the world is APRA doing trying to implement guidelines put forward by a body backed by an agenda? Has APRA considered the wealth of literature debunking global warming? The plethora of scandals that have befallen the UNIPCC, NOAA and even our own Bureau of Meteorology! Has it considered the dozens of dud predictions made by the IPCC? The UN climate science body has publicly climbed down from so many alarmist claims, citing no evidence or extremely low confidence. Can APRA put hrs numbers on what global warming might do?

To be honest, APRA should stay in its lane. It follows on from the lunacy spread by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) on the same topic. The only “high degree of financial risk” will come from their own terrible stewardship of the financial sector.

As CM wrote late last year Australian banks are in a terrible position financially. CM believes there is a high risk that some of Australia’s major banks will end up all or part nationalized when the property market bursts. To quote some excerpts:

In the late 1980s at the peak of the property bubble, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was worth the equivalent to the entire state of California. Greater Tokyo was worth more than the whole United States. The Japanese used to joke that they had bought up so much of Hawaii that it had effectively become the 48th prefecture of Japan. Japanese nationwide property prices quadrupled in the space of a decade. At the height of the frenzy, Japanese real estate related lending comprised around 41.2% (A$2.5 trillion) of all loans outstanding. N.B. Australian bank mortgage loan books have swelled to 63% (A$1.7 trillion) of total loans

From the peak in 1991/2 property prices over the next two decades fell 75-80%. Banks were decimated.

In the following two decades, 181 Japanese banks, trust banks and credit unions went bust and the rest were either injected with public funds, forced into mergers or nationalized. The unravelling of asset prices was swift and sudden but the process to deal with it took decades because banks were reluctant to repossess properties for fear of having to mark the other properties (assets) on their balance sheets to current market values. Paying mere fractions of the loan were enough to justify not calling the debt bad. If banks were forced to reflect the truth of their financial health rather than use accounting trickery to keep the loans valued at the inflated levels the loans were made against they would quickly become insolvent. By the end of the crisis, disposal of non-performing loans (NPLs) among all financial institutions exceeded 90 trillion yen (A$1.1 trillion), or 17% of Japanese GDP at the time.

In 2018, Australia’s GDP is likely to be around A$1.75 trillion. Our total lending by the banks is approximately $2.64 trillion which is 150% of GDP. At the height of the Japanese bubble, total bank lending as a whole only reached 106%. Mortgages alone in Australia are near as makes no difference 100% of GDP...

…In Westpac’s full-year 2018 balance sheet, the company claims around A$710 billion in assets as “loans”. Of that amount, according to the latest APRA data, A$411 billion of lending is ‘real estate’ related. Total equity for the bank is A$64.6 billion. So equity as a percentage of property loans is just shy of 16%. If Australia had a nationwide property collapse (we have not had one for three decades) then it is possible that the banks would face significant headwinds.

What that basically says is if Westpac suffered a 16% decline in the value of its entire property loan book then it would at least on paper appear in negative equity, or liabilities would be larger than assets. Recall in 2009 that BoA had over 16% of its residential loan portfolio which went bad.

We ought to be extremely worried if our financial regulators are devoting any time to this utter nonsense. It is highly doubtful that APRA could gain any meaningful insights on climate change even if there was 100% compliance with Bloomberg’s diocese. Utterly embarrassing.

Return of the State-Owned Enterprise

Image result for state owned enterprises

A new investor to Japan once asked CM how to categorise corporate behaviour in the land of the rising sun. CM replied, “Japan is not capitalism with warts, but socialism with beauty spots.

Latest reports confirm the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has now become a top 10 shareholder in almost 50% of listed stocks. In a sense, we have a trend which threatens to turn Japan’s largest businesses into quasi-state-owned enterprises (SoE) by the back door. The BoJ now owns $250bn of listed Japanese equities. It is the top shareholder in household Japanese brands such as Omron, Nidec and Fanuc. At current investment rates, the BoJ is set to own $400bn worth of the market by 2020-end.

The original reason for this move was to boost the ETF market and hope that Mrs Watanabe would pocket her winnings and splurge them at Mitsukoshi Department Store to increase consumption. Sadly all she has done is stuff it under the futon.

Although the government has been very public about the drive for good corporate governance, a stewardship code that drives to unwind cross-shareholdings, improve liquidity and lift returns, sadly the BoJ essentially reverses free-float and confounds the ability of companies to be attractive investments. What will happen if one day the BoJ announces it needs to pare its balance sheet back or that its holdings become too noticeable? These stocks will crater and Mrs Watanabe will become even more gun shy.

We shouldn’t forget that behind the walls of the BoJ, there is discussion to buy all $10 trillion of outstanding Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) and convert them into zero-coupon perpetual bonds with a mild administration fee to legitimise the asset. Global markets won’t take nicely to wiping out 2 years worth of GDP with a printing press. Such a reckless experiment has yet to hit the Japanese Diet for discussion because such a move will require legislation to approve it. If it happens, the inflation the BoJ has now given up on will turn into a tsunami.