Japanese stocks rallied in early 2011, but then the country was hit by the massive tsunami that not only killed thousands, but also delivered horrendous damage to buildings and the infrastructure, which to this day is still being rebuilt, albeit delayed by the radiation leakage.
The country continues to face struggles with its gross domestic product (GDP). In the fourth quarter of 2011, Japan’s GDP grew at a muted 0.6%, which is well below its historical average annual GDP growth rate of 2.15% from 1981 to 2011. Goldman Sachs estimates that Japan’s GDP will expand by 1.9% in 2012. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pegs Japan’s GDP growth at 2.0% in 2012, but has it declining to 1.6% in 2013.
At this point, there is minimal hope for Japan, as there are much better regions for investment opportunities globally, including China, India, and Latin America.
So, while Japan has faltered over the past three decades, China has used the opportunity to put its massive cheap labor workforce to use and created colossal manufacturing capacity for the world’s manufacturers looking for cheap labor and lower cost to produce goods.
China’s GDP leapfrogged ahead of Japan’s.
China’s mega-power economic GDP engine is showing some stalling, but the growth in the country continues to be well ahead of that of the rest of the G7 countries, as I discussed in Why the Great Wall of China’s Still Standing.
For 2012, China’s GDP is estimated to slow marginally to 8.6% from the previous 9.2%%, according to Goldman Sachs. This is impressive GDP growth compared to the industrialized world.
However, there are those who are positive towards Japan. Famed billionaire and investment guru Warren Buffett said the weakness in Japanese stocks provides a buying opportunity.
I’m just not that convinced. There are investment opportunities in Japan, but there is more money to be made elsewhere.
But if you really want some money in Japan, I suggest careful planning.
Several of the key Japanese banks, such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. (NYSE:MTU) and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Inc. (NYSE:SMFG), are interesting bank plays.
Other than the banks, you want to look at infrastructure stocks; not only in Japan, but also global companies operating in the U.S., such as Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (EC) and Fluor Corporation (NYSE:FLR).
The bottom line is that Japan remains a strong viable economic power, but you need to look to the emerging powers in China and India as better alternatives for above-average returns.