Japan ETF

What Is a Japan ETF?

The term Japan ETF refers to an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that invests the majority of its assets in Japanese assets that trade on local stock exchanges. These ETFs are diversified investments that have a low initial investment requirement and lower costs. Just like company stock. Japan ETFs trade on stock exchanges. They provide investors access to the Japanese economy through currency, equity, and fixed-income markets. Investors can choose from more than a dozen options that trade on U.S. stock exchanges.

Key Takeaways

  • A Japan ETF is an exchange-traded fund that invests in Japanese assets that trade on local stock exchanges.
  • Like other ETFs, shares trade on stock exchanges just like corporate stock.
  • Japan is home to a number of major indices tracked by ETFs, as well as others that track small- and mid-cap equity strategies and currencies.
  • Investors can gain access to the Japanese market and economy by purchasing ETF shares rather than stocks or other securities.
  • The market for Japan ETFs is smaller when compared to others like the U.S.

How Japan ETFs Work

Investing in foreign stock markets was something only sophisticated traders could ever hope to achieve in the past. But average investors have been able to get into the market, giving them the chance to profit from the global shifts in capital. This movement of money has a lot to do with the advance of exchange-traded funds.

ETFs pool assets from investors who have similar goals. They are listed on exchanges and trade throughout the day just like ordinary stocks. They strive to replicate the performance of a broad equity market, specific sector, or trend by mirroring the holdings of a designated index. This is a hypothetical portfolio of securities representing a particular market or a segment of it.

Japan ETFs provide international investors with an easy way to gain exposure to the country without buying individual stocks and placing all their eggs in one basket. These vehicles are managed passively around a broad underlying index, such as the MSCI Japan Index, whose constituents cover approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in the country.

Investors can choose from 21 Japan ETFs that trade on U.S. stock exchanges. Together, they hold combined assets of about $20 billion. These ETFs track eight major indices on Japan's stock market. This is in addition to those that track small- and mid-cap investment strategies and currencies.

Special Considerations

Japan is an advanced economy with a large equity market. That means there are plenty of ETFs to choose from, including more exotic ones that focus exclusively on the country’s smaller, up-and-coming companies, dividends, or value stocks. As with several of the larger, more liquid ETFs, some Japan ETFs can be sold short and are even accessible through listed options.

Having said that, many investors underestimate the effects that currency fluctuations can have on total returns. If the U.S. dollar rises in value against the Japanese yen (JPY), then an unhedged ETF will suffer currency losses that can offset any gains in the underlying Japanese stock market.

During periods of dollar strength, many investors found currency risk undesirable, paving the way for a rise in a category of ETFs that hedge out currency risk. Their goal is to give investors a return closer to the local currency returns of a country’s major stock market indexes.

The performance of a Japan ETF doesn't correlate to the performance of the underlying index when it's measured in U.S. dollars. Instead, it's the exchange rate change between the yen and the dollar that must be taken into consideration. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Japan ETFs

There's no doubt that investing in Japan ETFs allows investors to diversify their holdings and get into a new market. But there are other benefits to trading shares in these investments. Similarly, there are downsides to adding these vehicles to an investment portfolio. We've listed some of the key pros and cons associated with Japan ETFs below.

Advantages

The Japan Exchange Group, which owns the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE), is the largest and most progressive stock exchange in the Asia Pacific by market cap. This makes the country a frequent source of investor focus and attention. Japan ETFs allow for a single diversified investment in the country, while also making a bet on the strength of the yen versus the dollar.

Japan popped back onto investors' radars ever since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first took office in 2012. Abe steadily introduced a series of shareholder-friendly reforms, encouraging Japan Inc. to stop hoarding cash and start increasing dividends and stock repurchases. He also targeted negative interest rates, a controversial policy designed to stimulate spending and depreciate the yen. Since Japanese companies are big exporters, a devalued currency gives them a competitive edge.

Though widely talked about, Abenomics hasn’t been an overnight success. These economic policies have, however, made Japan a hot topic in investment circles and shone the light on it being home to some of the best companies and brands in the world.

Disadvantages

Abenomics failed to reenergize the Japanese economy as much as first hoped. The country has a fair number of issues, including decades of deflation, an aging population, and high levels of debt.

Japan's market is also more limited than others—notably, the U.S. ETF market—both in size and variety. This difference could be attributable to the fee structure for the Asian market in general. In the U.S., the trend has been toward a fee-only fiduciary model for many investments. In Asia, on the other hand, many investment products continue to be sold by agents on commission.

Pros
  • Provide access to a large and progressive market

  • Open investors up to Japanese companies, which have competitive edge

  • Give investors access to major companies and brands

Cons
  • Are susceptible to economic risks

  • Have access to a smaller market (size and variety)

  • Asia-focused ETFs tend to be commission based

Example of a Japan ETF

The iShares MSCI Japan ETF (EWJ) is perhaps the best-known ETF in this category. The fund aims to produce investment results that correspond to the MSCI Japan Index using a market capitalization-weighted method. In other words, a company’s representation is based on its size.

iShares’ Japan ETF and the MSCI Japan Index are very similar, ensuring little tracking error. Both are led by Toyota (TM), which accounts for over 5% of total assets, consisting mainly of industrials, consumer discretionary, financials, and technology stocks.

Article Sources
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  1. MSCI. "MSCI Japan Index (USD)."

  2. ETF.com. "Japan ETF Overview."

  3. Just ETF. "How to invest in Japan using ETFs."

  4. Statista. "Leading stock exchanges in the Asia Pacific region in 2019, by domestic market capitalization."

  5. Asia Times. "Japan Inc's dividends go on a bull run — at last."

  6. Council on Foreign Relations. "Abenomics and the Japanese Economy."

  7. iShares. "iShares MSCI Japan ETF."

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