Talking Numbers

Suddenly, this once hot trade is a mess

This will matter most to markets

This year's worst performing market was one of last year's best. Japan's benchmark indices, the Nikkei composite and the Topix, are down 8% this year. In 2013, they saw returns of 57% and 50% respectively.

And, things are about to get a little bit tougher on the Japanese consumer. On Tuesday, the country's consumption tax went from 5% to 8%, a planned hike that was first announced half a year ago. The last the national sales tax was increased was 1997. But, the difference this time is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a stimulus package of over ¥5 trillion (about $50 billion) to be implemented along with the tax hike.

"The consumption tax is not a positive thing," says Talking Numbers contributor Gina Sanchez, founder of Chantico Global. "There are a lot of proponents who say it should be fine because Japan is in a recovery. However, if you take it in the broader context, Japan just missed their fourth-quarter GDP print. And, think the general consensus is starting to form that Abenomics is not working as was hoped."

Sanchez says that while Abe may have defeated deflation, he has other obstacles to overcome.

"CPI isn't as high as they would like," says Sanchez. "So, there's still some more wood to chop. At the same, you've got their current account deficit just really starting to deteriorate. So, this is a challenge. It's a fine line that they're walking."

Still, Japanese stocks may have a little bit of near-term upside, according to Talking Numbers contributor Richard Ross, Global Technical Strategist at Auerbach Grayson. He notes that the Nikkei nearly doubled in the five months between December 2012 and May 2013, though it has since traded relatively sideways.
"We're talking about an entire market up 85% in five months – we're not talking about Tesla or Netflix," says Ross. "So, that's a huge move that we continue to digest in sideways fashion."

The Nikkei traded above a trend line starting in March of last year. However, it recently broke below that trend line, which is now serving as resistance, as is its 50-day moving average.

Though Ross sees upside for now, he also sees significant resistance in the index's long-term chart. The Nikkei failed three tests of the downward-sloping trend line begun more than two decades ago. Last year's peak was one of those failures.

"We've seen this type of action in the Nikkei before vis-à-vis a heroic advance only to falter at that longer-term downtrend," says Ross. "I wouldn't be surprised to see us falter here once again."

Nonetheless, Ross believes there are some positives for the Nikkei in the fundamentals compared to when the consumption tax was last raised. He notes that the price-to-earnings multiples on stocks in the Topix are now around 14 while they were near 96 back then.

"You also have wages steadying whereas they were plummeting back in '97," says Ross. "Corporate balance sheets are in much better conditions so you have some fundamental tailwinds."

To see the full discussion on the Nikkei with Sanchez on the fundamentals and Ross on the technicals, watch the video above.

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