NEW YORK ( The Deal) -- As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prepares to implement the "third arrow" of his economic growth policies, signs of U.S. interest in Japanese deal targets are emerging. Speaking late on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the New York Stock Exchange, Abe pledged to implement the final part of his policies -- structural change needed for sustainable growth. "As soon as I return I will be firing the next arrow: a bold tax reduction to stimulate investment, so Japan will be in full force again," he said. The first two "arrows" of what has been dubbed "Abenomics" have comprised massive monetary and fiscal stimulus programs that have triggered a 20% fall in the yen and a 60% jump in the Nikkei over the past year. Abe's speech at the exchange came amid a rare foreign investment in Japan: California-based chip manufacturing equipment provider Applied Materials ( AMAT) announced Tuesday a takeover of Japan's Tokyo Electron, in an all-stock deal valued at $9.4 billion. The acquisition is the second-biggest takeover of a Japanese company by an American concern on record, behind Citigroup's ( C) $13.9 billion acquisition of Nikko Cordial Securities in 2007. Abe said structural change would include measures to encourage higher female participation in the workforce, such as drastically boosting childcare provisions. He also urged America to adopt Japanese technology, which he claimed could save resources and improve efficiency. For example, he noted that a Japanese bullet train could cut travel time between New York and Washington to less than an hour. Japan notched 3.8% annualized growth in the second quarter of the year, according to Japan's Cabinet Office, beating its G-7 peers. Business confidence is also rebounding: the Ministry of Finance's third-quarter business survey index reached its highest level this month since 2004, when the survey began. Yet market volatility and currency appreciation triggered by Abenomics has also quashed outbound deal making. Japanese dealmakers, traditionally the leading foreign acquirers of U.S. assets, have shunned M&A opportunities in the world's largest economy: for the year to date, Japanese acquisitions of U.S. targets have fallen 75% by total value to $6.5 billion and 33% by volume to 85 deals, according to Dealogic.
By contrast, a stronger greenback against the yen has seen U.S. acquisitions of Japanese targets jump 61% by value to $9.8 billion year to date, with volume steady at 29 deals. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom attorney Hiroshi Sarumida said a sense of optimism has prevailed in Japan since the implementation of Abenomics. He noted that the Japanese economy had shifted to positive growth after a change in government last December, with exports increasing and consumption starting to pick up. "So, foreign
U.S. buyers start seeing potential opportunities," he said. "However, there is still uncertainty about the success of Japan's growth strategy and hurdles, whether they are regulatory or otherwise, for foreign buyers to implement more Japan-inbound deals." Sarumida said there had been positive signs Japan was accepting more foreign capital for deals: Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. was reported this month to be considering teaming up with a state-based Japanese investment fund to take a stake in Panasonic's healthcare business. While monetary and fiscal stimulus appears to have restarted growth, the real challenge for Abenomics rests on the "third arrow" of long-term structural change to ensure sustainable growth. Economists say this will be harder to implement -- but crucial to the success of Abe's plan to haul Japan from its slump. Written by Jane Searle