Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s economic policies, known as ‘Abenomics,’ have led to big improvements in corporate governance in the country, says Iain Campbell, a portfolio manager for the Baillie Gifford Overseas Fund.
While there’s been a lot of discussion about whether Abenomics is working, the improvements in corporate governance are coming through in how companies talk to their shareholders, which is creating opportunities, he says.
“Japan is a market where we’re seeing lots of innovation, but also lots of change in the way in which businesses are run.”
One example is cosmetics and skin care company Shiseido Co. Ltd. In 2014, the traditional Japanese company brought in its first externally hired president, who had previously worked at the Coca-Cola Co. and had a different mindset, says Campbell.
“That stimulated a sea change in the way in which the business was run. And so there was a renewed focus on the opportunity in the Chinese market, [a] focus on the duty-free market, re-investment in some of their very strong global brands — that’s had a very positive impact on the company. So it’s one example of this change in attitudes towards how globally competitive the business should be and in terms of attitudes towards shareholders, and I think there’s going to be lots more opportunities like that in Japan.”
Australia is another area with a lot of exciting opportunities for bottom-up stock pickers, says Campbell.
Active stock pickers can go further down the cap spectrum to find really innovative companies, he says, noting the country has a highly educated workforce, a very dynamic economy and a lot of exciting small companies doing interesting things.
Trade tensions between the U.S. and China are also impacting these markets, says Campbell “We’re in the middle of Japan results season at the moment and you’re seeing, in some companies, the impact of the trade war. Our attitude towards these sort of geopolitical events is that we’re long-term investors — we’re looking to hold companies for five to 10 years — and we think, if we can identify companies that have strong resilient businesses and are managed by honest and trustworthy managers, and you have a diversified portfolio of those kind of bets, that’s a very good way of managing whatever geopolitical choppy waters you might encounter.”
As growth investors, Campbell’s firm is going after four big trends: the shift to online, changing demographics, the emerging middle class and industrialization 4.0 or increased automation.