Investors are nervously training their sights on Japan’s general election Sunday, with the prospect of a surprise outcome creating choppy moves in recent days.
The nation’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is facing voters for the first time in about a decade without former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the fore.
The markets are uncertain what to expect from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, with the Topix down almost 2% since he was chosen as LDP leader. In the same period, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index advanced 1%.
That’s made investors anxious in a country where the LDP has ruled for all but four of the past 66 years.
Recent surveys have highlighted that voters aren’t crazy about Kishida. Opposition parties, while also lacking a charismatic leader, are this time better coordinated than in recent years.
Although most people expect the ruling coalition to lose some seats while retaining power, traders will focus more than usual this time on the Halloween election as a lot of uncertainties remain.
Here’s a look at what the potential scenarios could mean for Japanese stocks:
While Kishida has publicly said he would consider a bare majority for the coalition of the LDP and its partner Komeito as a success, many think he would want a stronger showing than winning just 233 seats of the 465 available.
Securing a total of 261 seats would mean an “absolute stable majority” that would offer control of Lower House standing committees.
Some polls have indicated that the LDP could retain a majority by itself. Such an outcome would be seen as a strong showing, encourage the market and help cement Kishida’s role at the helm.
That scenario would “help strengthen political capital for Kishida-san’s incremental policy tilt,” economists from Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co., including Robert Feldman, said in a note Wednesday.
Naohiko Baba, an economist with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in a note that whenever the LDP get a majority, shares “have had a strong tendency to rise before the election and see an even stronger rally after the polls have closed.”
With the LDP expected to surrender some seats, the focus is on the extent of the damage for the party.
Morgan Stanley says that “significant” seat losses of more than 40 would weigh on Japanese equities in the near-term, as concerns would rise about the stability of the government. The LDP failing to get a majority by itself would look bad for Kishida, and make the party more dependent on Komeito.
If the LDP cannot maintain a majority on its own, Kishida’s authority within the party will decline, according to Jin Kenzaki, head of Japan research at Societe Generale SA. He sees a 50% chance that the LDP won’t retain a majority. In this scenario, Kishida wouldn’t resign immediately — and he might boost his planned economic stimulus, Kenzaki said.
Some analysts added that the LDP’s poor performance might force Kishida — who has been vague about what his “new form of capitalism” actually entails — to adopt more understandable policies, or could even hasten a change in leadership.
The optimal scenario for the market might be that the coalition does fine, but the LDP changes its leader, said Richard Kaye, a portfolio manager at Comgest Asset Management Japan Ltd.
Although people think that it’s unlikely the fractious opposition will overthrow the government in the Halloween vote, it is a possibility.
Yukio Edano, leader of the largest opposition party, put the chances of a historic change in power at about the same as baseball star Shohei Ohtani’s batting average: 0.257, or about one in four.
The ruling coalition would need to lose more than 72 seats for that to happen.
A change in leadership could spook the markets. Such a scenario “would be more negative for Japanese equities given potential uncertainty about government formation and the resulting policy platform,” according to Morgan Stanley MUFG.
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