#mizuho

Banker Buster?

Banks.png

Before the GFC in 2008, bank shares across the globe were flying. Financial engineering promised a new paradigm of wealth creation and abundant profitability. They were unstoppable.

However 12 years later, many banks look mere shadows of their former selves. We are told by our political class to believe that our economies are robust and that a low-interest rate environment will keep things tickety-boo indefinitely. After all the wheels of the economy have always been greased by the financial sector.

If that were true, why does Europe’s largest economy have two of its major banks more than 90% off the peak? Commerz has shrunk so far that it has been thrown out of the DAX. Surely, Japan’s banks should be prospering under Abenomics so why are the shares between 65% and 80% below 2007 levels?

Ahh, but take a look at those Aussie beauties! How is it they have bucked the global trend? How can Commonwealth Bank be worth 6x Deutsche Bank?

Although we shouldn’t look at the Aussie banks with rose-tinted glasses they have mortgage debt up to the eyeballs. Mortgages to total loans exceed 62% in Australia. The next is daylight, followed by Norway at 40%. Japanese banks, before the bubble collapsed, were in the 40% range. CM wrote a comparo here. There is a real risk that these Aussie banks will require bailouts if the housing market craps out. It carries so many similarities to Japan and when anyone ever mentions stress tests – start running for the hills.

If you own Aussie banks in your superannuation portfolio, it is high time you dumped them. Franked dividends might be an ample reason to hold them, but things in finance turn on a dime and this time Australia doesn’t have a China to rescue us like it did in 2008-09. More details contained in the link in the paragraph above.

In closing, Milton Friedman said it best with respect to the ability of central banks to control outcomes,

“… we are in danger of assigning to monetary policy a larger role than it can perform, in danger of asking it to accomplish tasks that it cannot achieve, and as a result, in danger of preventing it from making the contribution that it is capable of making.

 

Diversity in Japan

AA89B2B7-E426-4562-87C6-5D8014EA584F.jpeg

Mizuho Bank was one of the first Japanese companies to openly embrace diversity and LGBT in a pride parade it promoted around 6 months ago . All the placards of ‘diversity is our strength’ and ‘inclusive society’ were displayed. The bank says it is the first in Japan to offer products which include housing loans that can be taken out jointly by same-sex partners, as well as principal guaranteed trust products — under which assets can be passed on to a same-sex partner.

According to an online survey by Dentsu in 2015, 7.6% of the population identified as LGBT. LGBT is not necessarily frowned upon at all. In fact many celebrities make a small fortune for being so. Matsuko Deluxe is a great example. She maintained her top spot in last year’s edition of the Nikkei Entertainment’s annual “Talent Power Ranking“.

For a culture that appears on the outside excessively conservative, variety shows embrace the very characters that shatter that myth. In such an orderly, consensus driven society their popularity stems from the fact they so brazenly buck the cultural stereotypes. After 20 years living here there would seem to be little evidence of blanket ‘discrimination’ against LGBT communities. Japan has existed more on a “don’t tell” mentality.

In the workplace more Japanese companies are embracing ‘nadeshiko’ to promote women. It was not uncommon to have a Japanese company look to marry off females to the legions of salarymen. So women were often overlooked for promotion for fear they’d raise kids and quit. While a terribly weak excuse to be sure one would hope that Japanese managers today  focus on hiring the best talent rather than hit predetermined gender quotas. There are plenty of talented Japanese women who can comfortably be selected on ability not gender. Although some will argue hard quotas will be needed so as to make companies feel comfortable they aren’t seen as ‘behind the times.’ Having said that government guidelines saw 90% of corporates adopt independent directors on their boards. Peer pressure seemingly works here.

However following ‘guidelines’ for the sake of it makes little sense. Were females more competent than the similarly ranked males on a 3:1 ratio in one company why not promote on that basis rather than a state suggested 2:1? If another company saw men 3:1 more skilled than women why wouldn’t a company want to rationally promote on those grounds? Indeed if companies look to succeed they should make decisions based on what is best for profitability and shareholders.

One corporate was asked this question of hiring more women at the AGM.  The CEO said he’d be only to glad to do so provided he could source suitable candidates. Hard to hit targets if the slew of applicants is 99% male. Indeed the company hires based on what it perceives as best fit for the business.

Things are changing in Japan on many fronts.

With marriage rates dwindling and childbirth nudging the 1mn mark per annum, more women are choosing to put the career first and have kids later and later.  Shotgun weddings now number 25% of all marriages and several companies are capitalizing on this trend by offering express matrimonial services. Society is changing. Note the report we wrote on the breakdown in the ‘nuclear family’ which tables in detail those seismic shifts.

Diversity in Japan. Far from wearing pussyhats and protesting with hostility there would seem to be many awaiting some centralized guidelines. While most would expect CM to tear strips off Mizuho for lining up for politicizing the workplace for once I’d credit it for “PROACTIVITY”. Indeed it wasn’t so long ago that then PM Koizumi had to tell corporate Japan that it was ok to take ties off in sweltering summer with power shortages in what was coined as “cool biz”.  Such a decision of common sense couldn’t be formulated by proactive management.

Mizuho’s credit doesn’t so much revolve around its appeals for more diversity rather for making a bold step to decide to do something like this without waiting for external guidance. With more internally driven open mindedness like this it paints a better role model for creating change.

This does not call for indoctrination of social ideals in the workplace. By all means provide hiring managers with better training on identifying talent but do not force identity politics in the office. Individual ability trumps identity every time.

So full marks to Mizuho. The message for Japan Inc to grasp from it is proactivity and common sense, not awaiting to be told what to do by some bureaucracy that is probably a worse offender of the guidelines it will inevitably seek to push.