Japanese stocks outperformed U.S. and European equities in the first half of 2015. Expect a second half of strong performance now that the country’s corporations are finally focused on being shareholder friendly, Said Xavier Smith, Investment Director at Centre Asset Management. “Share buybacks this year are up 50 percent compared to 2014, if you look at dividend payouts you will see they are up 20 percent compared to 2014 so that is really encouraging,” said Smith. “Also if you look at operating margins, back in 2012 they were at the 6 percent level, now they are over 7 percent, so that’s encouraging as well.” The iShares MSCI Japan ETF (EWJ), which tracks Japanese stocks, is up 15 percent so far in 2015 compared to a 2.4 percent increase in the S&P 500 Index. The iShares S&P Europe 350 (IEV) is up nearly 6 percent year-to-date. Smith is particularly bullish on shares of Mitsubishi Electric (MIELY), up 3 percent year-to-date, saying the conglomerate is taking Prime Minister Abe’s push to make Japanese corporations more competitive to heart.

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