While reading the New York Times this morning and sipping a Manhattan Special, washed down by a cold Ale-8-One (motto: For Bracing Pep - whatever that means) I ran across an interesting article in the Dining & Wine section. It is about the staying power of retro regional soft drink brands and mentioned both the Manhattan Special and being from Kentucky, my personal favorite the Ale-8-One.
No matter where you live you probably know of a bizarre regional soft drink such as Moxie, Buffalo Rock, Cheerwine or Blenheim. While some of these regional soft drinks may seem odd to us, they can hardly compare with many of the crazy soft drinks you'll find in Asia. For example, Pocari Sweat from Japan, is like Gatorade, if only Gatorade were thick, salty-sweet, and oozed out of the bottle. Sagiko Soursop Juice from Vietnam begs for an English explanation, but I can't think of a decent way to expand upon the literal translation: Soursop Juice. And then there's Grand Western Grass Jelly Drink from Taiwan with chunks of gelatin in it, a feature most Western soft drink makers spend millions of dollars to specifically avoid.
Ok, so this is a long-winded way of bringing up Asian markets, specifically Japan. On Monday the New York Times began a three-part series on Japan: "Can Japan Change? examining the challenges facing Japan as it tries to lift itself from 13 years of economic stagnation." This exploration of Japan is hardly a new idea. Just last week another financial news site asked the question: "A Japanese Bull Market?" And several well-respected analysts and investors have commented earlier this year on the opportunities shaping up in Japanese markets. But these recent articles do represent a turnaround in major media coverage from a little more than a year ago. Last year in February, for example, The Economist magazine featured a Japanese Kabuki mask with a single teardrop on its cover and the heading: "The Sadness of Japan." So this morning I wanted to take a look at the chart of the iShares MSCI Japan Index Fund (EWJ: AMEX).
This chart shows the violation in June of a major trendline that, if you could extend the chart, dates back to 2000. The run up to 8.25 took place fairly quickly. Since then the EWJ has settled back toward the initial breakout area of 7.25-7.37 and soon may form a higher bottom on the point & figure chart. Certainly this could be another false start for EWJ, but it could also be the beginning of something more important on a longer-term technical basis.
A couple of people whose opinions I value and respect, namely Jim Rogers and Marc Faber, have discussed Japan and Asian markets in some detail in recent books. In Adventure Capitalist, Jim Rogers expresses concerns about Japan's aging demographic base among other potential long-term structural problems. At the same time Rogers praises the increasingly robust, and somewhat stealth-like capitalist model underlying China's economy. In Tomorrow's Gold, Marc Faber also discusses potential opportunities and pitfalls, that may lie ahead in Asia and other global markets.
Japan, of course, is the market that first comes to mind if someone brings up "Asia" but as both Rogers and Faber have pointed out, there are many, many markets in Asia worth investigating if you believe Japan is involved in a turnaround. More importantly, I believe the big takeaway from all of this should be an enlarged perspective about what constitutes an investment in the years ahead.
For the vast majority of investors in the U.S., the word "investment" describes U.S. stocks, U.S. government or corporate bonds, and U.S. real estate...and almost nothing else. If you are under 50 years of age, I believe it will be well worth the time and effort involved in exploring the vast array of available investment opportunities around the world. Sure, it may take some time to acquire a taste for the gelatinous chunks in Grand Western Grass Jelly Drink, but doing so may open a whole world of possibilities.
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