Ahead of this weekend’s elections that will decide control of Japan’s upper house of parliament, the predictable ETF plays were the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (NYSEArca: DXJ) and the iShares MSCI Japan ETF (NYSEArca: EWJ).
“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc won a majority in Sunday’s upper house election, media exit polls showed, giving it control of both chambers of parliament and handing Mr. Abe a mandate to proceed with his ambitious plan for economic growth,” WSJ.com reported.
Should Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party emerge victorious, as is widely expected, Japan’s hung parliament scenario would end. That could give Abe the leverage to initiate even bolder economic reforms, including further weakening of the yen. Japanese government bond yields, already among the lowest in the developed world, seem to be pricing in LDP victory this weekend and that could cause more Japanese investors to dump those bond in favor of high-yielding assets outside of Japan, thereby depressing the yen. [Check Out This Leveraged Japan ETF]
Further yen depreciation is sure to ruffle feathers among Japan’s export rivals, South Korea included. Put Germany on that list as well. The Eurozone’s largest economy competes directly with Japan on several export fronts. Not surprisingly, Germany has also been one of the most vocal critics of Abe’s weak yen policy. [Relief For South Korea ETFs?]
A look at the iShares MSCI Germany ETF (NYSEArca: EWG) explains why the fund and German equities are vulnerable to more yen weakness. Consumer discretionary names, many of which are export-dependent, are EWG’s largest sector weight at 20.6%. Industrials, another export-sensitive sector, account for 13.7% of EWG’s weight.
One of the exports Germany is primarily known for is automobiles, whether it be luxury fare such as BMWs or the less pricey Volkswagen brand. Either way, the parent companies of Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen combine for 13.8% of EWG’s weight. Currency fluctuations make a difference in the auto market. [An ETF For Weak Yen Winners and Losers]
Toyota’s (NYSE: TM) Lexus brand became the top luxury car brand in the U.S. in April, surpassing BMW and Mercedes, Bloomberg reported. That was just for one month, but it shows the weak yen is enabling Japanese automakers to slash prices on cars sold in the U.S. European automakers are having a hard time responding with the euro still stubbornly strong against the dollar.
As for EWG, the ETF is up 4.7% year-to-date. Showing that the weak yen really does make a difference, DXJ has surged 29%. Japan’s four largest automakers are all found among that ETF’s top-10 holdings.
iShares MSCI Germany ETF
ETF Trends editorial team contributed to this post. Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of DXJ.
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