Hedge Funds Look To Japan’s Future, Buy Up Japanese Stocks

Mar 17 2011 | 9:35am ET

As the tragedy in Japan continues to unfold, FINalternatives spoke with portfolio managers and other industry experts this week about just what it means for Asian-focused hedge fund managers. They explained that in general, hedge fund managers are long Japan, whether they are global macro players or long/short funds, so in the immediate term this is very bad for their performance. However, if they can ride out the current volatility, the future may be brighter. Amer Bisat, a partner and portfolio manager at New York-based hedge fund firm Traxis Partners, explained:

“The question is, where do we go from here? Will these losses be cemented or will there be some sort of a reversal? I tend to believe there will be a reversal, evidenced by the history of asset prices post episodes of natural disasters,” Bisat said. “You often have an exaggerated overshoot on the way down, and this is followed up by a significant recovery once the growth associated with the reconstruction takes place.”

In fact, institutional investors and large hedge funds have been buying into Japan. Nomura sent the following note around to its clients earlier this week:

“On Tuesday, European clients have asked to execute a tremendous amount of business with us overnight (a near record, and given we are Nomura, this is considerable). 85% of the orders are buys and the focus is on blue chips. The argument that the insurance and margin call selling (i.e. non fundamental reasons) have created mis-pricings has gained traction with value investors and Japan specialists, and indeed they are speaking with their wallets.”

And while smart money is flowing into Japanese stocks, Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for ConvergEx Group, said that investors who are already holding Japanese assets are hanging onto them.

“There is one major exchange traded fund that a lot of hedge funds have used either directly or indirectly to get their leverage to Japan—the iShares Japan MSCI Fund. Ironically, it didn’t lose any assets in the last three days. The share count has been stable, which means that there were no net redemptions even with all the volatility,” said Colas, adding, “Late in the afternoon [Tuesday] that fund got massive orders for net new creates, so there is actually demand to get long Japan.”

One New York-based hedge fund manager who runs a $700 million Asia-focused fund with about 10% of that in Japanese stocks said that the situation with the nuclear reactors was causing so much uncertainly that he was buying, but doing so very selectively.

“Some managers were buying up anything that was cheap on Tuesday,” said the manager, who asked not to be named. “We were buying, but we were very careful in choosing stocks that will benefit from the rebuilding projects that will fuel the Japanese economy in the years ahead.”

Editor’s Note: Amer Bisat of Traxis Partners and Nicholas Colas of ConvergEx Group will be speaking next Wednesday, March 23 at the FINforums Global Macro and Geopolitical Risk event at the Princeton Club in Manhattan. There are still a few seats left, visit FINforums for more information.

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