TOKYO -- If it isn't Pokemon sleeping bags, then it's Hello Kitty mobile phones. Japan is often ridiculed for its obsession with useless inventions and kitschy products -- which often enough turn into global fads.
Sometimes the fads run the other way. In mid-1999, the hype in the Tokyo market seemed distinctly American -- Internet, technology and venture capital firms. Investors rushed to plunk down their savings for a piece of Internet holding company
, mobile phone seller-cum-Net firm
and tech holding company
. The three firms saw their share prices jump by an average of 695% last year.
Unfortunately for these once-hot tech plays, the fad seems to be waning. It's not that investors won't buy any more tech shares, traders assure, it just won't be as fast and furious as before. There is a decisive shift in the mindset of investors, and it seems awfully, well, nonfinancial.
Investors have become wary of Internet and tech holding companies like Softbank and Hikari Tsushin, wondering where their future profits will come from. In Hikari Tsushin's case, most revenue has come from cell phone sales. But the firm is reshaping itself into a Net incubator, and traders say they can't be sure that the firm's investments will turn into gold.
Proof of this negative sentiment surrounding the group came Friday, when Softbank announced plans to raise about 300 billion yen ($2.8 billion) in capital through a share offering sometime in April. Normally, the market would have cheered at the opportunity to get hold of some Softbank stock. However, investors voiced their worry about the firm's need for so much cash, worrying that it would be used for more questionable investments, and shares tumbled 13.9%.
This disillusionment with Japan's first batch of Net stocks may soon wane, especially if some of the large new mutual funds being set up each month start buying back Softbank and Hikari Tsushin come April 1, when the fiscal year begins. Prices are getting cheaper -- shares of both companies have dropped about 60% from their highs earlier this year. Some experts, however, are looking elsewhere.
, a database-management software maker, is one Net firm that hasn't broken the trust of investors in terms of growth prospect," says Takayuki Tsutsumi, analyst at
. He's expecting another 30% jump in profits for fiscal 1999 ending in May, a fine boost from fiscal 1998 when the firm posted unconsolidated net profit of 7.97 billion yen, up 42% from the previous year.
Investors will have a chance to grab a nugget of Oracle Japan in mid-April, when it jumps from the over-the-counter market to the
Tokyo Stock Exchange's
first section. The firm plans to offer 9.7 million shares to the public through underwriter
Nikko Salomon Smith Barney
, which currently holds an 85% stake in Oracle Japan, plans to sell 8.61 million shares as well.
With the addition of Oracle Japan to the TSE, computer stocks will broadly define about 4.8% of the total capitalization of stocks on the TSE's first and second sections. This could push fund managers with a tech focus to buy up Oracle as well, Tsutsumi adds.
If he's right, move over Softbank. The next fad in Japanese tech shares could be Oracle Japan.