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Staff writer

The gloomy economy — both here and in the rest of Asia — spells bad business for many companies.

But international moving companies have watched business soar as the stumbling economy forces firms to restructure their overseas operations.

Since last fall, Nippon Express Co., the country’s leading transport company, has enjoyed increased business from Japanese corporate clients drawing back from Southeast Asia. “The number of people returning from Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, has increased considerably since October,” said Kimiaki Sakon, head of Nippon Express’ overseas removals division. “Our main customers are automakers, auto parts makers and electrical appliance manufacturers who had expanded their operations in that region.”

In fiscal 1997, Nippon Express logged 17,700 moves from foreign countries to Japan, up 9.5 percent from the previous year. Moves from Asian countries grew 31 percent to 4,600 from the previous year, and moves from Thailand showed an even more striking rise at 53.1 percent, Sakon said.

Similarly, moves from Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia grew more than 30 percent during the same period. In contrast, overseas moves from Japan declined 1.3 percent to 17,300.

Yamato Transport Co., another transport giant, also noticed an increase in moves to Japan from South Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia, mostly by its corporate clients, a spokesman said.

Although the year’s busiest moving season is over, Yamato Transport expects the trend to continue as long as the sluggish economy clouds Asia, the spokesman said.

Japanese companies started transferring their manufacturing bases to Southeast Asia in the mid-1980s, taking advantage of the strong yen, but the recent Asian financial crisis has caused them to decrease their operations or completely withdraw from the region.

Prompted by the country’s weak economy and “Big Bang” financial deregulations, the collapse of Japanese financial institutions such as Yamaichi Securities Co. and Hokkaido Takushoku Bank has also meant downsized or closed overseas operations.

The closure of Yamaichi brought in about 200 international moves from the brokerage’s overseas offices to Japan, Sakon of Nippon Express said. The Big Bang financial reforms are also expected to bring in business from foreign financial institutions moving to Japan from Europe and the United States.

“We hear that foreign companies are starting to purchase real estate in central Tokyo, and we believe that orders for moves will follow,” said Norito Kojima, executive vice president for Odawara Unyu, a Yokohama-based firm that exclusively handles overseas moves.

Although his firm has contracts with major European banks and American securities firms, Kojima said the actual number of moves has not yet increased.

The transfer of personnel by Western companies peaks between June and August to prepare for the new business year that usually starts at the beginning of September.

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