Thursday, 30 May 2013

Is bad news the only news?

Last night I watched  the BBC World News, on Sky. And it had a major hooha about sharp falls in the Japanese stock market. The big news, apparently, was that the Nikkei had had a substantial fall - they talked about 5%, though the index data at the close weren't to hand, and in the event it was a less newsworthy but still largish  fall of 3.4% (opened at 14,072.9, closed at 13,589.03) - and the programme went on to note that, having hit a five week low, the Nikkei's weakness was causing alarm and unrest in the rest of  the Asian markets. No doubt the other news channels were running similar items.

Talk about something that is literally true, yet unbalanced.

Six months ago (its closing level on November 30 '12) the Nikkei was at 9,446.01. Since then, and even after this latest 'dramatic' fall, it is up by 43.9%. If this is a weak market, please, Oliver-like, could I have more.

Was there equivalent coverage when the market was rising? Were the TV channels as diligently reporting large gains as they have been in reporting large losses? For example, in the space of six days, 2nd to 8th of April)the Nikkei went from 12,003 to 13,193, a gain just shy of 10%. Were last night's handwringers celebrating back then? Cue for a Tui style: yeah, right. Investors becoming massively better off is, apparently, not news.

Irrespective of thoughts about media posturing, what's really going on?

The Japanese market had run hard and run strong. It had some good reasons for it. The new Abe government decided that it wanted substantially more spending on infrastructure, very low interest rates for even longer, and a much lower exchange rate (the whole 'Abenomics' thing). This big reflationary impetus greatly improved the short-term prospects for Japanese GNP growth and for Japanese corporate profits. A big rise in the equity market was entirely consistent with this new set of policy settings.

Did the equity market overdo things? I'd say, very likely. The Japanese share market is not the most transparent or above board of the world's equity markets, and a semi-organised over-ramp of share prices wouldn't have surprised me in the least. And even in less - let's call it collegial - markets, asset prices are well known to have tendencies to overshoot the levels that the fundamentals might justify. In some sectors of the Japanese market (and most notably the property and property development companies) share prices had, to use a technical economic term, gone mad.

The real news, in short, is that an extraordinarily strong equity market had got a bit irrationally exuberant, and needed to be a bit more realistic.

Was that too hard for the media to say?

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