While Japan took few direct hits in the global credit crisis, the aftershocks have been immense, and long-lasting. The United States and Europe may now be showing some signs of recovery, but the world's second-largest economy is still straggling behind and gasping for air.
Predictably, equity markets reflect Japan's wheezy struggle. The Nikkei 225 is the worst performer among the benchmark indexes of the G7 nations, up just 10 percent so far this year. (The best performer, by the way, is Toronto at nearly 27 percent. The Dow has posted a respectable 17 percent return.)
Some discrepancy between Japan and other advanced industrialised nations is to be expected. Tokyo's top companies are largely exporters reliant on the United States, where consumer spending has been whiplashed by the recession. A resurgent yen, which drives up the price of Japanese goods overseas, hasn't helped either.
Consumer spending in Japan -- which never convincingly recovered from the crash of the asset bubble in the early 1990s -- is only poised to get worse, thanks to the lethal demographic cocktail of an ageing population and a shrinking birthrate.
But the reasons behind the Nikkei's poor performance aren't exclusively economic. Talk to a frustrated fund manager in Tokyo (believe me, they are very easy to find these days) and they'll tell you that even with the lousy earnings and a grim economic outlook, the biggest problem now is a rush of capital raisings that will heavily dilute the holdings of current shareholders.