Business / Financial Markets

Part-time traders join pros in mass exodus from Japan stocks

by Anna Kitanaka and Yuko Takeo

Bloomberg

Whether part-time or professional, Japan’s stock investors are heading for the exits.

Sell orders from large foreign pension funds contributed to Monday’s slump, according to Credit Suisse Group AG, as the value of the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, home to the country’s biggest companies, tumbled the most since the 1987 crash. Individual investors who suffered some of the worst losses on small-cap shares seen in the past decade were staying up to watch New York for cues on what to do Tuesday, said Yoshihiro Ito, chief strategist at Okasan Online Securities Co.

Tokyo stocks tumbled further Tuesday after swinging wildly, with the Nikkei 225 average closing at 17,806.70, a fall of 733.98 points.

“It’s like an equity clearance sale,” Ito said. “Selling is spurring more selling in a vicious cycle. Individuals have been watching to see how things pan out in the U.S. and China and now think selling won’t stop. What happens next all depends on the U.S.”

The rout is shaping up as one of the biggest threats to the stock-market wealth created under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose efforts to end deflation saw the Topix index double from 2012 through its Aug. 10 peak. Global stock losses are mounting as concern about China’s economy and the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate outlook spur an $8 trillion selloff.

Japanese investors woke up to a 3.9 percent decline in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, entering its first correction since 2011, on one of the most volatile trading days ever.

Individual investors account for more than two-thirds of trading on Japan’s small-cap stock gauges, compared with about 20 percent on the main section of the TSE, according to data from the bourse operator.

Shares on the TSE’s first section lost ¥32.8 trillion in market value Monday, the most since Oct. 20, 1987, when ¥56.5 trillion was erased following the Black Monday sell-off, according to the bourse.

“Everyone is really surprised,” said Basil Dan, head of equity sales at Credit Suisse in Tokyo. “Long-only accounts are joining the selling and what’s standing out are Europe and U.S.-based pension funds, which up until now have almost never been sellers.

“Relatively speaking, Japan is looking attractive to other countries,” Dan said. “But as globally we’re in a risk-off mode, we might not see any money flow in for a while.”

The TSE Mothers Index tumbled 12 percent on Monday in Tokyo at the lowest level since May 2014, capping its third-biggest decline over the past 10 years. The Jasdaq’s drop was its biggest since March 2011, with GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. sinking 7.3 percent. “Mothers has been annihilated,” said Tsutomu Yamada, a market analyst at Kabu.com Securities Co. in Tokyo. “There must have been a lot of margin calls so it’s not a matter of” whether individuals wanted to sell, he said.

Mitsuo Shimizu, deputy general manager at Japan Asia Securities Group Ltd. in Tokyo, also pointed to forced sales of shares bought with borrowed money as exacerbating declines.

“If first-section stocks fall this much, investors’ positions become really damaged,” Shimizu said. “If Mothers falls more than that, individuals can’t continue to hold on anymore.”

Equities slumped across the region on Monday, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index tumbling 5.2 percent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index retreating 4.1 percent.

Japanese stocks will remain hostage to global sentiment, says Yutaka Miura, a technical analyst at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo.

“Risk-off moves are happening around the world,” Miura said. “Until this stops, the outlook won’t be good for Mothers.”

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