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Diary of a Dumb Investor: Japan's dangerous siren call

Call me a wuss, but I just wouldn't bother with investing in Japan or mainland China.

Diary of a Dumb Investor: Japan's dangerous siren call

Plug your ears with beeswax; have yourself tied to the mast! The old advice about withstanding the call of the Sirens holds true today, although this is not the sweet song of mythical murderous temptresses, but the annual whirr of the Japanese stock market.

I won’t be lured in. Why, I’m curious to know, would anyone invest in Japan?

By that, I mean the average UK investor. Every year the Japanese stock market seems to go through a false start, accompanied by bullish statements from market commentators, only for the rally to fizzle out.

Stocks just don’t seem to be able to rise consistently from under the weight of bad politics, yen strength and floppy economics.

In the past five years, funds invested in Japan have on average risen by 1.8%, according to Citywire data. The three funds swerving the country to invest in small and medium-sized companies in the region are the ones topping the global tables (see Asia Pacific Small & Medium Companies sector.

Does the return of Shinzo Abe as PM – after a ‘disastrous’ first term – and some aggressive stimulus (with unpredictable results) change that? We've yet to see.

Perhaps it is exactly that kind of scepticism that leads investors like me to miss out on the biggest gains, the juiciest goodies. And maybe I’d feel differently if I didn’t have so little money to spread around.

But I would apply the same thinking to China too. Specifically mainland China shares. Here too funds – the means by which I would invest were I that way inclined – have not done well. In fact, over five years mainland China funds are down 7%. Greater China funds, which allow the fund manager to put their money in places like Hong Kong where companies are better managed and the stock market less influenced by volatile local investors, have gained by nearly 11%.

I would trust in the fund managers like Hugh Young who are wary of mainland shares. But like Japan, a punt on mainland China just doesn’t seem to be worth the risk.

Maybe that’s why I’m not a great investor yet. I lack the gumbo to invest in long-falling markets.

I’m obviously not saying I’ll only invest in markets that have risen a lot – I took a punt on a short-term plummet in Standard Chartered (STAN.L) shares after all – just that there seem to be some no-go zones even for an investor with a relatively high risk threshold. That, at least, is what I think I am.

So once again, I find myself wrapping up with a familiar question: am I missing the point?

My portfolio: Click to enlarge

7 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Ian Burgess

Jan 21, 2013 at 16:51

Well my Neptune Japan is at last beginning to move in the right direction - i.e., up. I didn't invest much (only £1000) in a share ISA and my investment is nearly back to par. Actually that goes for my other Neptune funds as well - long may it continue! So dumb investor perhaps you are a wuss!

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Suze Jamieson

Jan 21, 2013 at 17:26

Agree about Japan, but why not use an ETF to follow the MSCI China index for a while at a low cost. Try HMCH.

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wayne roberts

Jan 21, 2013 at 17:33

You don't seem to realise that your job is to find and buy bubbles and get out before the bubble pops, perhaps then you would have some money to spread around.. if you don't want to aggressively grow your account and become a great investor then carry on as you are..

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Colin Reed

Jan 21, 2013 at 17:44

"Why, I’m curious to know, would anyone invest in Japan?"

It's the cheapest of the developed markets and every dog has its day, are two good reasons for doing so.

A recent illustration of the benefits of contrarianism when it comes to Japan has been the performance of the Legg Mason Japan Equity fund between October 2008 and October 2011 when it was the best performing Unit trust of all over 1, 3 and 5 years.

It is usually in last or first place in the Japan league tables and is currently at the bottom, for now anyway...

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Mark J via mobile

Jan 21, 2013 at 18:27

Last year, the Japanese market had the best returns on a hedged basis. It will probably have decent returns this year as the Yen is likely to weaken further, which is positive for large cap companies as it boosts exports.

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Geoff Downs

Jan 21, 2013 at 21:45

Japan is not rising on fundamentals, it has the worst debt of any country. The Governments use of QE is giving the markets the uplift, as in every country it is being used.

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Jan 21, 2013 at 22:35

Every month I draw up a list of the investment trusts that have beaten the FTSE All-Share over 1, 3 and 5 years (it's not as time-consuming as it sounds).

Aberdeen New Thai has appeared in that list in 47 of the last 63 months.

As you say, why bother with Japan or China?

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