U.S. Banks Urge Tokyo Staff to Swap Nuclear Fear for Work
Wall Street banks operating in Japan are inviting nuclear physicists to inform Tokyo employees about radiation risks, providing counseling and supplying bottled water to calm workers and keep them in the city.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) has hosted three nuclear specialists and held sessions on emergency preparedness and family welfare, said Hiroko Matsumoto, a spokeswoman in Tokyo. Morgan Stanley asked two scientists to speak to staff and their families over the coming week and is importing water from Hong Kong, said Mika Watanabe, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman.
U.S. investment banks want staff to focus on business opportunities in Japan as the nation turns to rebuilding areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear accident, analysts said. Tokyo Stock Exchange President Atsushi Saito has led criticism of some foreign investors for a lack of commitment toward the local market since the disaster.
“The Wall Street firms are seeking to alleviate anxiety of employees,” said Takao Saga, a professor who studies the financial industry at Waseda University in Tokyo and is a commissioner at the Japan Securities Research Institute. “The banks must have also started drawing up scenarios for Japan’s revitalization.”
The actions reflect employees’ concerns about the hazards from radiation leaked by the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant 220 kilometers (137 miles) north of Tokyo that has tainted vegetables and seeped into the water supply.
Among scientists who briefed Goldman Sachs staff and their families in Tokyo was Dwight Williams, a nuclear engineer who has advised the United Nations on environmental radioactivity, Matsumoto said. Doctors and counselors gave advice on issues ranging from health management to how to treat children during disasters.
At Morgan Stanley (MS), some nuclear energy and health specialists have already talked to local workers in the aftermath of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that left more than 28,000 dead or missing.
“We are doing everything we can to address the needs and concerns of our employees,” Watanabe said. “That includes providing everything from expert opinion to safe drinking water.”
Zurich-based UBS AG (UBSN) set up an internal website called “Update on Japan” for staff to view developments on the nuclear crisis, Tokyo-based spokeswoman Eiko Noda said.
Businesses Need Cash
Global banks “want to avoid lowering their presence and losing market share in Japan as the economy is still the third largest and it was picking up,” said Takehito Yamanaka, a Tokyo-based analyst at MF Global FXA Securities Ltd. “There will also be new demand for loans and fund raising from companies whose factories were damaged, as well as mergers and capital alliances.”
In a sign of resilience of investment banking in Japan following the quake, Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604), the country’s biggest brokerage, said today it plans to hire 600 university graduates in April 2012, about the same number as the current year.
Bank of America Corp. (BAC) Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan is visiting Tokyo to meet clients and plans to address staff at a town hall-style gathering today, said Takayuki Inoue, a spokesman for the biggest U.S. lender by assets. The company’s energy industry analyst Takahiro Mori has briefed about 100 employees on concepts such as sieverts, a measurement of radiation, Inoue said.
Their resolve to maintain operations in Tokyo contrasts with perceptions among some people that global firms were preparing to withdraw staff. Tokyo Stock Exchange chief Saito was quoted by the Wall Street Journal last week as calling overseas investors “selfish” for wanting to “run away.”
“Foreign firms see this as a big chance for business,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees about $450 million in Tokyo at Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co. “There will be special demand from Japan’s reconstruction. Japanese companies have stopped production, but only temporarily, and they’re strong enough to rebound.”
Investors from abroad bought a record net 893 billion yen ($10.7 billion) of Japanese shares in the week after the quake even as the market declined, according to Ministry of Finance data. During that period, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average (NKY) had its worst two-day drop since 1987 as reactor buildings at the nuclear plant in Fukushima exploded and leaked radiation.
Some foreign companies moved staff overseas after the disaster. BNP Paribas, France’s biggest bank, sent around 10 workers to Hong Kong and Singapore as part of a business continuity plan, spokesman Daniel Boyd said on March 16.
The French and German embassies advised their citizens to consider leaving Japan after the tsunami damaged generators that drove cooling equipment at the Fukushima plant. The U.S. government advised Americans living within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the plant to evacuate -- a wider area than Japan’s 20-kilometer exclusion zone.
Levels of radioactive iodine-131 found in Tokyo’s tap water on March 22 and March 23 exceeded the recommended limit for infants, the Tokyo city government said last week. The levels have been below the limit since March 24, according to data posted on the government’s website.
Some 137 products, including milk and vegetables, were found to be contaminated in Tokyo and five prefectures to its north and east as of March 31, according to a health ministry statement. Residents have also had to contend with aftershocks and rolling blackouts to conserve energy.
Investment banks are keen to assuage staff after some foreign media reports inflamed concerns about radiation risks, said Saga at Waseda University.
“I was in New York just after the earthquake,” he said. “I saw several TV programs exaggerating the situation using footage from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
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