Japan’s vaccination effort is starting to gain adherents among investors who had once blamed it for holding the equity market back.
For months, Japanese shares have been weighed down by widespread criticism that the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program was trailing other developed nations. But as the rollout begins to inch forward, with the country administering more than 1.3 million doses in the past three days, some strategists are expecting the narrative to shift.
“It’s really gathering speed,” said Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities Co. in Tokyo, referring to the government’s program. “People have been saying it’s slow, but now it’s starting to get into full swing and you’re starting to see that reflected in the stock market.”
An uptick in the average forecast for the Topix in June may signal investors are starting to price in an expansion of vaccinations. Japan is reportedly preparing to sign off on the use of Moderna Inc. and AstraZenca PLC’s vaccines this week. Shipments of the Moderna vaccine have already arrived in Japan to be used in large-scale vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka from Monday.
That’s welcome news for a market flirting with a technical correction amid concerns over U.S. inflation and the Bank of Japan’s near-absence from the stock market. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average is the second-worst benchmark this year among developed markets tracked by Bloomberg.
“Looking at Europe, expectations for business sentiment increased when the inoculation rate reaches about 20% to 30%,” said Masashi Samizo, a senior market analyst at SMBC Trust Bank Ltd. in Tokyo. “Japan is still in single digits, but the trend is clearly accelerating.”
To be sure, vaccinations for professionals in Tokyo still seem far off, with little indication when they might get shots. While Japan has administered just 7 million first and second doses in a country of more than 126 million, compared with almost 60 million in the U.K., the pace has begun to increase as more local authorities in charge of vaccinations start to spin up their programs.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga surprised many earlier this month when he gave a formidable target for the country to achieve 1 million inoculations a day, seeking to finish administering doses to the country’s 36 million over-65s by the end of July. While around 86% of municipalities have said they expect to finish by that date, it’s unclear if the pace, which per capita would match some of the best days in the U.S., is realistic.
But the stock market’s mood has definitely changed for investors like Naoki Fujiwara, the chief fund manager at of Shinkin Asset Management in Tokyo.
“It’s starting to feel real, whereas just a few days ago I was wondering when it would begin,” said Fujiwara, who expects the Moderna approval to support the market. “Should vaccination expand in the next month or so, Japanese stocks could rebound strongly again.”
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