Investment insight: Japan

  • Gain an understanding of the current economic factors facing Japan
  • Grasp the relationship between market performance and currency movements
  • Understand the challenges ahead

Other years have seen a mixture of small increases and losses, but none of the funds listed have experienced any unmitigated disasters.

Challenges ahead

Looking ahead, the challenges are numerous. The Japanese central bank has just introduced a new package of measures aimed at raising inflation and therefore weakening the yen, and this would be bad news for investors who have reaped the benefits of its rise in recent years. 

A further problem is the rather staid nature of many of Japan’s largest firms. But the government is attempting to encourage innovation and shareholder-friendly policies, which, if successful, would be rather more welcome for investors.

Declining population

An ageing population is one of the most significant structural challenges facing Japan, and the government has unveiled a relatively unorthodox way of dealing with the problem. The paradox of desperately trying to increase female presence in the workplace, while also halting a declining birth rate, has left prime minister Abe with a difficult problem to solve. 

Part of the government’s solution has been for it to organise ‘marriage hunting’ events in order to bring people together. Data provided by World Bank emphasises the importance of addressing these issues before they become more problematic.

The population of Japan has fallen every year since 2011, prompting huge concerns about the best way to arrest this slide. This desperate need to increase the population is also a significant factor to the plight of the Japanese economy. 

In 2012, GDP stood at $6trn (£4.9trn), but by 2015 this had plummeted to $4.1trn (£3.34trn). To compound these difficulties, public debt has rocketed to 250 per cent of GDP and increased every year since 2007. As of December 2015, Japan had the worst public debt to GDP ratio in the world.


As discussed, any assessment of Japanese equity markets must also taken into account the yen. After such a strong rise against sterling, some investors may be expecting a reversal, and many funds still offer hedged share classes that will protect a fund from a fall in the yen. 

Forecasters at Trade Economics predict that the yen is unlikely to strengthen further for the next five years, but if the currency does continue to rise, these hedged share classes will do much worse than an ordinary Japan fund.

Exercising caution

It is abundantly clear that the Japanese market presents an opportunity and a risk to investors. The immediate risks may come from further afield. The general consensus seems to be that if Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential election, global markets may be able to benefit from a newfound sense of confidence.