Eoin Treacy's view -
Successful cost cutting, rising profits and free cash flows, and a corporate culture of risk aversion stemming from the bursting of the Japanese bubble led to an ironic side effect: over-capitalized balance sheets. As Exhibit 4 indicates, over 50% of listed nonfinancial companies are “net cash” today.3 In the U.S., that figure is less than 15%.
Carrying large amounts of cash, especially in a negative interest rate environment like today, is troublesome for shareholders. Equity investors expect companies either to reinvest surplus capital in projects that generate returns above the cost of capital or return it to shareholders so they can reallocate to value-creating investments.
These “lazy” balance sheets have drawn the attention of Japanese regulators and government, two groups that are trying desperately to spark economic growth to help address the pension burden in a country with a declining population and negative yield on government bonds. Furthermore, the Japanese equity market is filled with inefficiencies that offer upside opportunities for patient investors. The number of analysts and investors covering the Japanese market has declined following decades of disappointing returns after the bursting of the 1980s Japanese bubble. Cultural and language differences also have diminished foreign investor interest in Japanese equities.
A couple of years ago Mrs. Treacy was looking for a factory to can Akoya pearl oysters in Japan. There are a small number of companies in the prefecture around Kobe that perform the service but we ran into a recurring problem. They did not have available capacity and would not consider taking on additional customers. The feedback we received was universal, they did not want new customers.
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