The firm's Web site -- www.sparxfunds.com -- is a little short on details right now, as is to be expected for a relatively new fund. But the prospectus said the fund's expense ratio is 1.5%, which is more than reasonable; the average Japan-focused fund carries a 2.28% expense ratio, according to Morningstar.

Since ( MJFOX) Matthews Japan and ( FJSCX) Fidelity Japan Small Company are proven commodities, I'm still inclined to recommend them first. However, consider Sparx Japan officially on the radar screen as a fund to watch.

The fund doesn't have a ticker symbol yet (a telephone service rep kindly informed me that a fund needs 100 investors before it can get a ticker; who knew?). However, investors can find out more information about Sparx Japan, or buy shares in the fund, by calling 1-800-632-1320.

Cheers,

Steve

Auto Values

Another TheStreet.com reader asked a question about the following passage from the same column on Japan. He cited the passage I wrote:

Back in June , I wrote a column suggesting that it was finally time to consider investing in Japan after more than a decade of devastating declines. And the Nikkei 225 returned 24.5% for the year. While 2004 may not be quite as robust, plenty of big-cap Japanese multinationals such as Sony ( SNE) and Honda ( HMC) still look cheap relative to U.S. peers.

This reader asked: "How can Honda be cheap; it has a bigger market cap than GM?"

My reply: On a forward-earnings basis, GM and Honda both have a price-to-earnings multiple of about 10. Ford's forward P/E is about 15 and DaimlerChrysler's forward P/E is about 21. That's the simplest measure to employ for relative valuations.

Even after a solid run-up since December, GM looks to be the most undervalued of the U.S. Big Three -- and that dividend is starting to look nice and plump. While the stock market's gains and hefty borrowing helped GM erase the $18 billion shortfall in its pension, GM is far from out of the woods when it comes to pension and retiree health care costs. Honda isn't saddled with such looming issues, which in my opinion makes the Japanese automakers' forward P/E of 10 look a lot cheaper than GM's.

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