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Japanese Exports Under Pressure: Tough Time for ETFs?

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The world’s third-largest economy Japan has seen a decline in exports for the seventh straight month in June. Per data from the Ministry of Finance, exports fell 6.7% year over year in comparison to a 5.6% fall projected by economists and 7.8% drop seen in May. The NIKKEI 225 Index slipped 1.97% on the news. Moreover, imports in June declined 5.2%. Naturally, Japan’s economy recorded a trade surplus of around 589.5 billion yen ($5.5 billion) in the month.

In fact, Japanese exports fell 4.7% while imports slipped 1.1% in the first half of 2019 along with a trade deficit of 888.8 billion yen.

What’s Behind the Disappointment?

It is largely believed that the lower export volumes of semiconductor components, steel pipes, tankers and China-bound car parts primarily led to the disappointing June performance for Japan.

Meanwhile, the Sino-US trade tensions have weakened China’s economy. The country’s second-quarter economic growth slipped to the lowest in almost three decades. Analysts are apprehensive about waning demand, thanks to a slump in Chinese imports. Resultantly, Japanese exports to its biggest trading partner — China — declined 10.1% year over year in June, marking the the fourth consecutive month of a drop.

A slowdown in global economic growth is being observed with Trump making rampant attacks to defend his America First agenda. China, Mexico, India and Turkey, most countries have faced the brunt of Trump’s trade-related policies over the recent past. This has resulted in weaker currencies, soft economic growth and slashed forecasts for the countries at the receiving end. Notably, Asia-bound exports, which account for more than half of Japan's total exports, fell 8.2% from January to June 2019. Moreover, exports to Europe had fallen by 6.7% in June.

Moreover, Japan is on the verge of a trade spat with South Korea. Japanese exporters are now required to apply for licenses for certain individual shipments to South Korea of items like chemicals used mostly for producing refrigerants, pharmaceutical intermediates, metals production, and sometimes semi-conductor preparations. Moreover, South Korea will be eliminated from Tokyo’s list of “white countries” in late August. In this regard, Scott Seaman, director for Asia at political consultancy Eurasia Group, said that, “change is expected (and arguably intended) to complicate and slow the process of exporting these goods from Japan to South Korea.”

Moreover, Japan is grappling with raised U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs. Investors should note that Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. economy rose 13.5% year over year in June. Probably this is why, the Trump administration is said to have been pressurizing Japan to increase its imports from the United States on the grounds of Trump’s efforts to end unfair trade practices. Japan may also be asked to cut down its auto exports to the United States.

More Pains Ahead?

Japanese manufacturers' business confidence has slipped to a three-year low in July. Moreover, analysts are of the opinion that Japan's economy will decelerate in the coming months on worsening external conditions. Moreover, Koya Miyamae, senior economist at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc, said that, "the outlook looks dim for July through September as far as export growth." Complicating the situation, the Japanese government is prepared to impose a hike in sales tax from 8% to 10% in October, extinguishing hopes of any improvement in Japan’s economy in the near term. However, all hopes are pinned on the ongoing Sino-US truce talks, though no immediate solution is in sight.

ETFs in Focus

Against this backdrop, investors can keep a tab on a few Japan ETFs like iShares MSCI Japan ETF EWJ, JPMorgan BetaBuilders Japan ETF (BBJP - Free Report) , WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund DXJ, WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Fund DFJ and iShares Currency Hedged MSCI Japan ETF HEWJ.


This fund tracks the investment returns of the MSCI Japan Index. It comprises 323 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $12.64 billion and expense ratio is 0.47%. The fund has returned 7.9% year to date.


This fund tracks the investment returns of the Morningstar Japan Target Market Exposure Index. It comprises 377 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $3.84 billion and expense ratio is 0.19%. The fund has returned 8.3% year to date (read: Japan's Economy Beats Growth Forecasts: ETFs in Spotlight).


This fund tracks the investment returns of the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Index. It comprises 296 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $2.86 billion and expense ratio is 0.48%. The fund has returned 5.3% year to date (read: ETFs & Tax Efficiency: What Investors Need to Know).


This fund tracks the investment returns of the WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Index. It comprises 774 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $509 million and expense ratio is 0.58%. The fund has returned 3.4% year to date.


This fund tracks the investment returns of the MSCI Japan 100% Hedged to USD Index. It comprises one holding. The fund’s AUM is $389 million and expense ratio is 0.48%. The fund has returned 6.6% year to date.

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