My picks among exporters would be Komatsu and Kubota, because both will be big beneficiaries of spending on earthquake and tsunami reconstruction.
Japanese exporters aren't just the more familiar names to U.S.-based investors; they're also easier to buy. Most -- including all of the above stocks -- trade as American depositary receipts in New York.
Despite the unfamiliarity, though, and any difficulty in buying the shares, I much prefer domestically oriented Japanese companies for the remainder of 2012. (Big online brokerage firms such as Fidelity, Schwab and E-Trade have all made it easier to trade in overseas markets. It's worth asking.) They'll reap the rewards of the relative outperformance of the Japanese economy -- compared with other developed economies -- without the downside exposure to an appreciating yen. In fact, in the case of companies that source their raw materials or products outside of Japan but sell inside the country, a rising yen is actually a boost to profit margins.
One of my favorite picks in this sector is JS Group (JSGRY) -- 5938.JP in Tokyo, and very thinly traded in New York. The building materials manufacturer owns 40% of the market for toilets in Japan and 50% of the market for window frames. The Tokyo-traded shares are up 21.7% so far this year.
Or try Rakuten (4755.JP in Tokyo; no U.S. listing), the owner of Rakuten Ichiba, the largest e-commerce site in Japan. The company is working in a joint venture with China's biggest search company, Baidu (BIDU), and has recently made e-commerce acquisitions in Brazil (now Rakuten Brazil), Germany (now Rakuten Deutschland) and the United Kingdom. In November 2011, Rakuten bought e-book publisher Kobo. The Tokyo shares are up just 2.4% in 2012.
And for a big dose of Japanese retailing, look at Seven & I (SVNDF). (The stock trades as 3382.JP in Tokyo; New York volume runs at about 50,000 shares a day, and Tokyo volume runs about 2 million shares a day.) This holding company, which is the parent of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores in Japan (and which completed its purchase of the U.S. 7-Eleven company in 2005), is the fifth-largest retailer in the world with 45,000 stores in 100 countries. Back in Japan -- the source of 70% of company revenues in 2011 -- it owns the Ito-Yokado grocery and clothing stores, Denny's Japan, and the Sogo and Seibu department store chains. Retail sales in Japan rose 1.9% in January after climbing 2.5% in December. The Tokyo shares are up 14.8% in 2012.
That's by no means the end of the Japanese companies that you can research as you build (or rebuild, after 20 years away) the Japanese weighting in your portfolio. But it should be enough to get you started. I'll be giving you more suggestions from Japan as the year goes along. I think this story will run deep into 2012, if not longer.
At the time of publication, Jim Jubak did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column in his personal portfolio. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this column. The fund did own shares of Rakuten as of the end of December. Find a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of December here.
Jim Jubak's column has run on MSN Money since 1997. He is the author of the book "The Jubak Picks," based on his market-beating Jubak's Picks portfolio; the writer of the Jubak's Picks blog; and the senior markets editor at MoneyShow.com. Get a free 60-day trial subscription to JAM, his premium investment letter, by using this code: MSN60 when you register at the Jubak Asset Management website.
Click here to find Jubak's most recent articles, blog posts and stock picks.
Stock mentioned in this article: Toyota Motor (TM).
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