Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Short-term hopes, long-term gloom

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By Tomasz Janowski

Optimism that Japan’s economy will bounce back from a post-quake slump and pessimism about its long-term prospects is the prevailing message of economists addressing the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit.

The reasons for the near-term optimism are well known: strides made by Japanese manufacturers in restoring production and supply networks ripped apart by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and expectations that sooner or later hundreds of billions of dollars spent on rebuilding the ravaged northeast coast will grease the wheels of the stuttering economy.

There is also little doubt about what has been holding back Japan, which has been in and out of deflation and recessions over the past decade.

Its society is aging faster than any other nation, the productive (and consuming) population is shrinking, its manufacturers keep shifting operations abroad where wages are lower and markets grow and its debt burden makes it impossible for Tokyo to engage in any grand-scale pump-priming.

Looking forward to inflation

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By Tim Kelly

Yoshiharu Hoshino, the president of Hoshino Resort, one of Japan’s leading resort operators, is looking forward to a dose of inflation after years of sliding prices.

By engineering a rise in rates by printing money, he reckons Japan can make a big chunk of its burgeoning national debt disappear, which along with tax hikes is, he predicts, likely the way Japan is going to exit a potential crisis as debt soars to more than twice its gross domestic product.

Suntech eyes Japan growth

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By Leonora Walet

Suntech Power may be the world’s biggest solar panel maker but it trails Sharp, Kyocera, Panasonic and Mitsubishi Electric in the fast-growing Japanese solar market.

Now, the company is set to take on these Japanese rivals on their home turf and aims to double its market share in the country to 10 percent next year.

When debt monetisation makes sense

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If push comes to shove and Japan runs into difficulties finding buyers for its low-yielding government bonds, a little debt monetisation — a dirty word for central banks — would not be a bad thing.

Tomoya Masanao, managing director and head of Japan portfolio management at PIMCO, told the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit that if private investors are not willing to buy JGBs, then the central bank should fill the breach.

Perils of disaster fixation

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By Tim Kelly

Fixated on reviving the shattered northeastern seaboard, Japan risks neglecting growth in the rest of the economy, warns Takeshi Niinami, CEO of Lawson, Japan’s second-biggest convenience store operator.

“The question is what do you do about the other 95 percent of the economy,” Niinami told the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit in Tokyo.

Hard road on Japan’s nuclear policy

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By Kevin Krolicki

Suddenly Taro Kono doesn’t look like quite the lonely maverick in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Kono, a member of the lower house of parliament, has been an unrelenting critic of Japan’s pursuit of nuclear power since he was first elected in 1996. That made him an odd fit with the LDP, which ruled Japan almost continuously from the mid-1950s to 2009 and put nuclear power at the center of Japan’s energy policy.

Gassing about electric cars

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Would you buy a car that only goes 100 miles (160 km) on a tank of fuel?

That’s the range of Nissan’s 5-seater electric car planned for sale in the U.S. and Japan in 2010 – a similar size to Nissan’s Primera or VW’s Golf.

A full tank in a petrol-driven car will take you around twice that distance so the new technology that Nissan hopes will leapfrog current hybrids won’t be for those who disappear up the mountains each weekend.

Blackrock sees opportunities in shrinking Japan

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Japan’s population has peaked and all the projections have it sliding sharply in coming decades, raising questions about investment opportunities when emerging markets, in particular, offer much more obvious growth opportunities.

By 2055 government researchers expect Japan’s population to slide 30 percent to below 90 million from around 128 million with mushrooming numbers of retirees to be supported by a dwindling workforce.

Nomura: Lehman taking shape

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Nomura’s takeover of Lehman Brothers’ European and Asia businesses is yielding results, and concerns the Japanese bank will struggle to marry cultures is misplaced, according to the man who drove the deal.

“It’s a very successful start and we’ve been happy with what we’ve got,” Takumi Shibata, chief operating officer for Nomura, told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit in Tokyo.

The Esperanto currency

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Hiroshi Watanabe, president of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, saw his share of dollar buying intervention during decades at the nation’s finance ministry.  But the market veteran says despite prevalent talk recently, a shift away from the greenback as the world’s reserve currency may be great in theory, but like the language of Esperanto short on daily practitioners.

“Esperanto is a very good language, but no community uses it in its daily life, ” Watanabe told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit.

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