Japanese Shame Gauge Finds a Friend in Biggest Pension Fund

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Japan’s pension fund is so big that a $13.5 billion investment barely makes the footnotes.

Yet there, in the back of the retirement manager’s annual report, lies good news for the nation’s shame gauge. The $1.1 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund had 11 times as much money tracking the JPX-Nikkei Index 400 at the end of March as it did a year earlier. It’s estimated to own more than half the assets following the stock measure.

After a tentative start, the retirement fund is becoming a powerful backer of the index created last year with an unusual mission: to change Japanese companies’ behavior. The JPX-Nikkei 400, which picks the nation’s most profitable firms in a bid to shame the others into improving performance, was set up partly to find stocks for GPIF to invest in as the fund shifts away from bonds.

“The JPX-Nikkei 400 is steadily increasing the assets linked to it,” said Keiichi Ito, chief quants analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. in Tokyo. “It helps that a government panel said GPIF should invest in the measure, and that it now has futures.”

A panel handpicked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to advise on overhauling Japan’s retirement system recommended in 2013 that GPIF invest in the JPX-Nikkei 400 when the gauge started the following year. The pension fund began slowly, putting just 151 billion yen ($1.2 billion) into the index as of March 31, 2014. One year on, that figure swelled to 1.7 trillion yen.

Japan Exchange Group Inc., the bourse operator, listed futures for the shame gauge in November, making it easier for pension funds and other investors to use the measure. The nation’s central bank also purchases exchange-traded funds linked to the JPX-Nikkei 400.

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So far, returns on the shame gauge are mirroring the broader market. The JPX-Nikkei 400 rallied 28 percent from the start of 2014 through last week, the same as the Topix, and added 0.6 percent in Tokyo on Tuesday. SMBC Nikko’s Ito estimates that overall investments linked to the fledgling gauge total as much as 3 trillion yen.

In October, GPIF more than doubled its Japanese stock allocation to 25 percent of assets. It reached a 22 percent share by the end of March.

Passive assets tracking the Topix index accounted for 75 percent of the fund’s 31.7 trillion yen in Japanese stocks, down from 86 percent a year before. Investments following the JPX-Nikkei 400 rose to 5.3 percent of the total, from 0.7 percent.

Akihiro Murakami, chief quantitative strategist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Tokyo, says the rapid growth in GPIF’s shame-gauge purchases is unlikely to continue.

“Given the fund will be cashing out of bonds, Japanese shares will probably close in the 25 percent level by next March even without buying more,” he said. “GPIF assets following the JPX-Nikkei have got to a pretty good place.”

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