Is Japan Reviving?

Japan Can Teach U.S. How to Overcome National Rot

While more people in the U.S. are noticing a period of institutional sclerosis and Europe suffers from its paralyzed politics and  high unemployment, Noah argues that Japan has managed to mostly pull itself out of a long period of paralysis. Despite of Japan’s seemingly endless dysfunction following the bursting of its real estate and stock-market bubbles, he claims that the perception that Japan is mired in an eternal “lost decade” is now out of date.

Yes, Japan’s economy has a number of long-term structural problems, most significantly its aging, shrinking population. But in most areas, Japan has overcome its bout of sclerosis, and in many ways is looking healthier than any other major economy.

The areas he mentioned are:

1) GDP:
While total GDP figure, or fail to account for inflation understate Japan’s performance,  the country’s real output per working-age population has outpaced the U.S.’s since 2000, despite the fact that Japan’s working-age population has aged much more.

2) Employment:
In Japan now, practically everyone who wants a job has a job

スクリーンショット 2017-04-17 19.09.57スクリーンショット 2017-04-17 19.10.24

Though women in Japan still haven’t won economic equality in the workplace, they now have jobs at higher rates than their American counterparts.imrs

3) Companies:
Though Japanese companies are simply employing too many people, they also have managed to improve profitability a lot. Margins are higher than they’ve been since the Great Recession.

スクリーンショット 2017-04-17 19.17.25

4) Many social indicators:
Fertility, tough at very low level in developed countries, has begun to inch up.
Japan’s violent crime rate is still legendarily low.
High suicide rate has also come down substantially.

Noah lay the cause of these healthy indicators on good leadership who were willing to confront issues like unproductive workplaces and pervasive sexism head-on, as well as on companies’ effort endeavored in waves of consolidation that helped raise profitability in industries from autos to banking to electronics.

However, as a student of Japanese economic history and a foreigner living in Japan, I really doubt that if two lost-decades has made Japan to collectively realize that the old growth and social models weren’t working.

 

Firstly, despite of the growing GDP per capita at all, Japan is a country famous for its low white-collar productivity which is borne out by the statistics. And thus the full employment is still strayed from perfect stage as the substantial growth of employment since 1990 is mainly driven by part-time workers, who are arguably offered jobs that  even a Robot shouldn’t do. [1]

Secondly, my own research finds that the waves of consolidation is nothing but a boom stimulated by changes on laws and the level of firm reorganization is still way lower comparing to UK or US market. Moreover, based on the data of listed firms in Tokyo exchange, I find that that despite of increasing turbulence on the economic environment as well as the technology revolution, the risk of bankruptcy on big firms in Japan are becoming lower in recent decade, which might imply a more stable and rigid market environment.

The case in Japan is not like what Chandler said “structure follows strategy” but the verse. So the main question is if the structure (inter-firm, intro-firm, market) has changed institutionally or not. Or in a more pessimistic sense, is Japan able to get rid of its institutional sclerosis formed and trapped in its economic heyday in principle?

 

[1]

“Some of that comes from the reluctance by tradition-minded companies to adopt modern workplace technologies — there are still companies using fax machines or copying electronic documents onto paper. Some of it is from outdated management practices. Some of it is from employees staying at work for too many hours, long after their productivity has gone into free-fall. But some of it is certainly just a function of useless jobs. There are Japanese people being paid to do things that no one, not even a robot, should be paid to do.”

Appendix: Aging and Shrinking population in Japan

The population of Japan is estimated to drop below 100 million in 2053, and the most pessimistic calculation is that Japan will diminish in 3766. Immigration is the only way in the short to medium term to solve Japan’s pension deficit and manpower issues, and Japan is relaxing its some of its immigration rules. However, Japan’s government has claimed that this is only foreign-skilled variety and it will never welcome the word of immigration but only guest worker.

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Liquidity crisis or Solvency crisis

経済史の論文で1930年代の大恐慌に関する銀行破綻の論文を読んだ、後で調べたらこの議論は結構面白がったので、一旦いくつの関連文章を記録する:

Basic knowledge:

How do banks become insolvent and the importance of deposit insurance

Bank capital and liquidity

Bank Runs

2008 crisis:

2008: Liquidity crisis, or solvency crisis? (*Noah introduced loads of related researches.)

Bank Assets and Bank Runs

1930s crisis and now:

The Problem Was Never Liquidity, But Insolvency … And We Should Let Insolvent Banks Fail (Friedman and Schwartz hypothesis)

LESSONS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Causes of U.S. Bank Distress During the Depression

Balance Sheet Crises: Causes, Consequences, and Responses

The banking panics in the United States in the 1930s: some lessons for today

 

 

USD/JPY views 2017/04

先复习一下上次大摩的论点

日本投资者对日元乐观过度(日本的企业预计的过去6个月的美日均值在103,但实际值为111),进而导致对冲过度,从而推高了日元。而基于美联储继续加息和XCCY收益缩窄会减少美元供应(受美金融机构资产负债表影响)提升对冲成本(会逼使日本方改变对冲方式),日本企业在下周新财年开始后将会逐渐减少对冲行为,导致日元的贬值。

然后大摩在上一周仍然在吹多美日

财年的最后一周日本投资者共向海外流出1.42万亿日元资金买债买股(日本投资者在最近几个月净出售外债,是不是预示要停止了);海外投资者抛售日元计价MMI的预期

同样的数据小摩却看跌美日:

日本海外债券投资的趋势主要由银行推动,特别是最近三个月都是银行在卖外债,其他投资者在这段时间内并不活跃,所以最近的净购买的改善可能表明银行在进入财年更迭时期后已经重新加速了外债购入的速度。而尽管上周日本海外债券采购量相对较大,但贸易加权后的日元汇率水平仍与同期基本持平,这表明上周大部分海外债券购买都可能是由外币资金或外汇对冲支撑。

这种趋势说明日本投资者可能会在进入新财政年度时积极投资用外汇对冲的海外债券,因为美元/日元的下降使外汇对冲外债投资更具吸引力。(虽然外汇对冲外债交易对于汇率是中性的,但仍将推高美国国债收益率,导致美日利差收窄,进而为美日货币对带来下行压力。)

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烂而事实情况打了大摩和小摩一脸血:

新财年第一周日本投资者外债净卖出2.2万亿日元,为2015年4月3日以来的最高单周净卖出记录。而小摩立马翻脸不认人表示上周外债收购规模是由技术面因素带动的暂时现象,而现在大力抛售海外债券的主要驱动因素是日本银行,且照目前情况来看(银行连续第8个月向外净卖出海外债券),抛售趋势还尚未结束

 

那么我们总结一下影响美日的要素:

1. 日本投资者对日元的乐观程度的影响(两方面 买卖资产和对冲)
2. 对冲的成本
3. 直接抛售海外资产的可能
4. 全球避险情绪

所以日本投资者卖外债,美日跌,买外债做对冲,美日跌,全球避险了,美日跌,只有日本投资者买美债还不做对冲,美日涨。做不做对冲看预期和对冲成本,两者改变的兆头,似乎并没有看到。

(结果这几天被一个法国大选打了脸。好吧,加一个政治风险被过分估计切riskon模式导致的日元下跌情景。但是事实上从去年看大型切换的频率并不会高。)

 

人工智能会不会导致大量失业

从去年开始我遇见了不少讨论这个主题的文章。首先关于会不会有很明确两边对立的观点,各自都有所理据,最近甚至讨论到大量替代之后带来的包括经济衰退社会动荡等等不良后果。我隐隐约约是相信不会的,但是也经常提醒自己是不是小看了人工智能的发展,或者轻信了这次会一样。

在我看来首先一个关键性要确定是人工智能能到达的工作能力的程度。如果能在各种方面十分接近人类的话,我觉得这个话题就谈都不用谈了,不是导致失业了,是人类没有存在意义了。所以我个人还是觉得限制在人工智能能高效完成当前社会的某个单线程工作这么个前提条件下来看问题。

然后最关键的一个问题就是,人工智能会不会在将来的某一时间导致突然的,大量的,长期性的失业。

否的理论原因还在思考,先记录几个我想到的问题,日后总结。

最近日本就业市场求人比率到2,失业率达到了几十年来最低,但是工资仍然不上升,为什么?失业率的下降是不是因为现在科技发展的速度还赶不上少子化速度?

我学校里有时候有什么会议的时候,会见到有人站在学校旁的路口,就拿一块牌子指着场地方向。这大概我能见到的最简单的工作了,为什么没有被更加高效的方式替代?我们系至今为止还发布信息竟然还是靠玻璃告示栏,电子化程度不堪入目,为什么?

而像投行这样的工作,高强度长时间高工资而公司人员精简,新招一个低层级员工的边际收益很高,为什么却不这样做?

人工智能最被期望与代替重复劳动的工作,我从五年前投资A股的时候就有机器人热点,说某某工厂现在导入了全自动生产线,现在怎么样了,为什么太大声响了,为什么反而为了税到美国去建厂了?

我最近想买个扫地机器人,irobot,非常贵,相当贵,犹豫了半天,放弃了。你说如果他要是定价能和小米手机一样,岂不是家家一个,卖上天?所以为什么让他无法降价?

古有马车,今有司机,都是最典型的被替代的命运,也没什么再就业手段,似乎很说的通,但等等,马车夫失业以后司机是怎么冒出来的?

Noah Smith的一篇文章在我看来非常好的解释了为何以上的一些无效工作案例说明机器人彻底消灭工作岗位是不太可能的。

See, the so-called lump of jobs fallacy really is a fallacy. Many people think that if you eliminate an existing job, the number of available jobs in the economy goes down by one. But this is simply not support by the facts. The rate of job churn in any modern economy — even Japan’s — is much, much larger than the rate of net job creation or destruction. When people’s jobs are eliminated, they almost always find new things to do, unless the country is in a deep recession. 

Of course, there are costs involved with eliminating an existing position — for example, if people have to retrain. But the skill of pushing an elevator button or guarding an empty lot isn’t exactly something that requires one to go back to school. And government can help laid-off people look for work, through websites and other services. 

如果看过去二十年的通货膨胀的话,伴随着科技进步,TV软件电话服务大幅度通缩,而教育儿童医疗餐饮则通货膨胀。或许人工智能推崇者最后会发现,被替代最多的不是别人,而是他们自己。