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Japan's Economy Beats Growth Forecasts: ETFs in Spotlight

Japan’s better-than-expected economic growth numbers have provided a sigh of relief to investors amid speculations of global economic slowdown. The ongoing Sino-US trade spat has added to the ambiguity. Markets are uncertain about the course the U.S.-China trade war might take. In fact, Morgan Stanley has said that failure in resolving the issues between the two largest economies will lead the global economy toward recession.

What Do the Numbers Say?

Japan’s GDP in the first quarter of 2019 expanded 0.5% year over year, faring better than estimates of a marginal decline. Moreover, annualized GDP growth was 2.1% in the first three months of 2019, as against the median estimate for a decline of 0.2%.

What Drove the Upside?

Most of the analysts are of the opinion that the upside has been led by increased net exports. There was around a 4.6% decline in imports, much wider than the 2.4% decline in exports. This contributed around 0.4% to GDP growth. According to an Economic Times article, strong public and private residential investments led the GDP growth.

Also, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ‘Abenomics' anti-deflation programs are believed to have moderately contributed to GDP growth during the quarter.

Is This Rosy Picture a Fantasy or Reality?

There are numerous reasons why it will be inappropriate for investors to cheer up just on the basis of numbers. Firstly, these are preliminary results and might vary significantly from the actual results.

The decline in imports hints at slowing domestic demand. Moreover, for first-quarter 2019, private consumption in Japan declined 0.1% along with a 0.3% drop in capital expenditure.

However, with the government refusing to postpone the hike in sales tax from 8% to 10% in October, an intensifying trade war and Bank of Japan’s possibility of missingits 2% inflation target by 2020 extinguish hopes of any improvement in Japan’s economy in the near term.

There are speculations that the Japanese economy will soon face recession. In this regard, Hiroaki Muto, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center, said, “the economy has already peaked out, so we are likely to have a mild recession.”

ETFs in Focus

Against this backdrop, investors can keep a tab on a few Japan ETFs like iShares MSCI Japan ETF EWJ, JPMorgan BetaBuilders Japan ETF BBJP, WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund DXJ, WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Fund DFJ and iShares Currency Hedged MSCI Japan ETF HEWJ.

EWJ

This fund tracks the investment returns of the MSCI Japan Index. It comprises 322 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $12.97 billion and expense ratio is 0.47%. The fund has returned 5.3% year to date.

BBJP

This fund tracks the investment returns of the Morningstar Japan Target Market Exposure IndexSM. It comprises 385 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $3.61 billion and expense ratio is 0.19%. The fund has returned 4.9% year to date (read: Cheapest U.S. ETF Launch Ever: JPMorgan's Strategy in Focus).

DXJ

This fund tracks the investment returns of the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Index. It comprises 308 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $3 billion and expense ratio is 0.48%. The fund has returned 3.9% year to date (read: U.S. Dollar At 10-Month High: ETFs to Buy & Sell).

DFJ

This fund tracks the investment returns of the WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Index. It comprises 747 holdings. The fund’s AUM is $548.3 million and expense ratio is 0.58%. The fund has returned 1.1% year to date.

HEWJ

This fund tracks the investment returns of the MSCI Japan 100% Hedged to USD Index. It comprises of one holding. The fund’s AUM is $488.9 million and expense ratio is 0.48%. The fund has returned 6.4% year to date.

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iShares MSCI Japan ETF (EWJ): ETF Research Reports
 
WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Fund (DFJ): ETF Research Reports
 
WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (DXJ): ETF Research Reports
 
iShares Currency Hedged MSCI Japan ETF (HEWJ): ETF Research Reports
 
JPMorgan BetaBuilders Japan ETF (BBJP): ETF Research Reports
 
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Zacks Investment Research
 
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