Vaccine Envy Hits Japan Markets as Investors Eye Suga’s New Deal
(Bloomberg) — Japan won praise during the pandemic for staying open while other developed economies locked down — helping lift stocks to three-decade highs. But as the country now struggles with its inoculation program, a case of vaccine envy is breaking out.The Topix is down 1% in the past month, compared with gains of 5.2% in the S&P 500 Index and 2.6% by the FTSE 100 in London, where photos of revelers at re-opened pubs this week contrast with reports from Tokyo, where hours at bars and restaurants have been shortened as virus cases surge.“Japanese indexes are starting to fall behind. Foreign investors are looking at vaccination rates as an investment decision,” said Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities Co. “Markets are at their wits end right now with the vaccination rate slower in Japan.”Yet the mood could quickly shift, with reports Friday that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to call Pfizer Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla to seek an agreement on extra supplies of the New York-based company’s vaccine.“It’s very possible Suga will get a promise for a large supply of U.S.-made vaccine,” Daiwa Securities Co. analyst Eiji Kinouchi wrote in a report on Wednesday. If that happens, “Japanese travel stocks and others might surge next week, closing the gap with the U.S.”The first shipments of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine, which could be approved for use in Japan as early as next month, are also set to arrive next week, according to a report by the Jiji news agency.“In a way, it’s a buying opportunity, because it’s not forever that Japan will be behind,” John Vail, chief global strategist at Nikko Asset Management Co., said before Friday’s report. “People are going to get vaccinated pretty soon. A lot of people will be relieved.”Olympic FocusJapan has entered a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic with fewer than 100 days before the scheduled opening of the Olympic Games. A senior official in Japan’s ruling party indicated Thursday that canceling the event was an option, though he later clarified his remarks.In Tokyo’s financial circles, some envy peers abroad who have already been vaccinated. Hong Kong on Thursday expanded eligibility to all people over the age of 16, while Japan has yet to make clear when all age groups can get inoculated.“If the inoculation rate for Japan remains so overwhelmingly low, it’s inevitable that compared to other countries, the recovery of the economy will be significantly delayed,” Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute, wrote in a report.The country has plans to distribute enough vaccine to cover both doses for people 65 years and older by the end of June, though the timeframe for actual administration of the shots hasn’t been finalized.Less UrgencyJapan started inoculations of the elderly on Monday, with only about 7,000 of the 36 million over-65s administered to in the first four days. Nearly 2 million doses have also been given to medical workers.A combination of factors has dragged the rollout, including a requirement for local trials, a lack of domestic development and production capacity that has made Japan dependent on imports, and a public long-skeptical of vaccines.Also, with around 500,000 reported cases to date — compared to 31 million in the U.S. and 5.2 million in France — Japan hasn’t felt as much urgency as many nations in the West. Indeed, even during the most recent state of emergency, businesses both large and small mostly stayed open.“Globally, Japan is still an A-student in terms of how little economic activity declined,” said Hiroshi Matsumoto head of Japan investment at Pictet Asset Management, who cites a lull in the earnings cycle for sluggishness in the markets, with a recovery already priced in and earnings season looming.“There isn’t really a debate that Japan is somehow worse compared to other countries that need to ramp up vaccination because their outbreak is worse,” he said.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.