Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Jan 4, 2024

Can Japanese Equities Rally in 2024?


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Daniel Blake from Morgan Stanley's Asia and Emerging Market Equity Strategy team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll discuss one of the big debates in the market around Japanese equities in 2024. It's Thursday, January 4th at 10 a.m. in Singapore.

As we kick off the new year, one of the most debated investor questions is whether Japanese equities can again perform well if the Yen is now over weakening, but instead strengthens over 2024 as expectations of Fed rate cuts play out. The market is understandably concerned that if the Yen appreciates significantly, Japanese equities will underperform, given the impact on competitiveness and the effects translation of foreign earnings. As a result, global investors remain underweight on Japanese equities versus their benchmark weight, despite the notably improved sentiment on the underlying Japanese economy.

So in contrast to these concerns, we believe that Japanese equities and the Yen can simultaneously rally in 2024, which will mean even stronger returns for unhedged dollar based investors than for the local index. Our currency strategists forecast modest further gains in the Yen, with a pick up to 140 against the US dollar by end 2024 versus 143 today. And despite this, we see corporate earnings growth still achieving 9% in 2024, underpinned by nominal GDP recovery and corporate reforms.

So what is the reason for the break in the usually negative relationship between the yen and Japanese equities?

We still see three drivers supporting the market. First, there’s the return of nominal GDP growth. The Japanese economy is finally exiting deflation that has been prevalent since the 1990s, and we believe a virtuous cycle of higher nominal growth in Japan has started thanks to joint efforts from the Bank of Japan and the corporate sector to move to a positive feedback loop between price hikes and wage growth, underpinned by a productive CapEx cycle. Our chief Japan economist, Takeshi Yamaguchi, forecasts nominal GDP growth for 2023 to have achieved 5%, but to remain above 3% growth in 2024, and a healthy 2 to 2.5 % for the foreseeable future.

The second driver is corporate reforms, which have been the most crucial driver of underlying Japanese equities performance, and we expect the trend improvement of return on equity to continue. The sea change in corporate governance in Japan has led to major changes in buyback and dividend policies, which combined are almost quadruple the levels they were at ten years ago. And we're seeing a broadening trend of underlying business restructuring underpinned by more engagement from investors, both foreign and domestic.

Finally, Japan has been a net beneficiary of investment inflows and CapEx orders in the transition to a more multipolar world. And with those flows, while equity valuations are cheap to history, in contrast to the US market, we expect them to be supported by further foreign inflows and domestic inflows that will be boosted by the launch of the new Nippon Individual Savings Account Program this month.

Bottom line Japan equities remain our top pick globally. We see the TOPIX index moving further into a secular bull market with our December 2024 target for the index standing at 2,600, which implies 10% upside in Yen terms and more in US dollar terms from current levels.

Thanks for listening. And if you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

Many investors believe that the value of Japanese stocks will dip as the yen gets stronger. Here’s why we’re forecasting ~10% growth.