Today, the Nikkei Asian Review reports that Nomura Holdings, Inc. (8604 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange) expects to close over 30 of its 156 domestic retail branches, “previously considered a sacred cow by the group.” In addition, Nomura will eliminate roughly half of its 11 administrative departments and “revisit its policy of maintaining hubs in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.” That comes after the investment bank reported a ¥101.2 billion ($911 million) loss for the nine months ended Dec. 31, its worst such showing since 2008.
Nomura’s misadventures are no outlier. In early March, Mizuho Financial Group, Inc. was forced to take a ¥680 billion write down that included ¥150 billion worth of losses related to its portfolio of overseas bonds (Almost Daily Grant’s, March 7). More broadly, the Tokyo Stock Exchange Bank Index has seen its return on equity decline in each of the last five years, to 5.33% in 2018 from 9.77% in 2013. The index trades at a paltry 0.47 times book value, worse than even the EURO Stoxx Bank Index’s similarly-depressed 0.62 price-to-book ratio and far below the 1.18 times book valuation commanded by the U.S. KBW Bank Index.
Of course, much like Europe, Japan’s macro-economic backdrop features negative interest rates and aggressive central bank asset purchases. The BoJ has accumulated ¥557 trillion in assets, equivalent to 101% of 2018 nominal GDP (that compares to about 39% in Europe and 19% in the U.S.), as policymakers continue to up the ante in their quest to achieve a 2% measured rate of inflation.
With its gargantuan portfolio, the BoJ wields substantial control of the country’s capital markets. As noted by the Financial Times on Sunday, the central bank now holds close to 80% of outstanding ETF assets, equating to approximately 5% of Japan’s total market capitalization, while data from Bloomberg pegs the BoJ ownership of the Japanese Government Bond Market at 43%.
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