Japan’s largest exchange operator disclosed the components of three new market sections on Tuesday, but the long-awaited shake-up of the country’s sluggish stock market is attracting more skepticism than excitement.
Japan Exchange Group Inc. said 1,841 constituents would make up the new “prime” section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which will replace the current first section of companies that form the benchmark Topix index. But the shift is disappointing analysts who view it as little more than window-dressing, with just 16% fewer components than the first section, which has 2,185 stocks.
The bloated bench of constituents in the first section was a key reason behind the move, which had been heralded as a once-in-a-generation reform. But it’s now got some asking whether the revamp, which goes into effect April 4, has been worth the fuss.
“I am not sure what the point was,” said Travis Lundy, an analyst at Quiddity Advisors who publishes on Smartkarma, speaking before the announcement. “It will not meaningfully alter anything.”
Japan’s overblown Topix, whose membership has nearly doubled since the 1990s to include more than half of the nation’s listed firms, has been cited among reasons for its long underperformance. Many of the components are obscure small caps with little-to-no liquidity and offer minimal or no English-language disclosure.
The TSE has pitched prime as a market for companies “which center their business on constructive dialogue with global investors,” with improved corporate governance among the stated goals.
“It’s hard to get excited at first glance that the ‘prime’ index, which has the highest listing standards, has over 1,800 companies,” said Takeo Kamai, head of execution services at CLSA Securities Japan Co. “It doesn’t feel like it would get investors excited.”
One of the reasons so little has changed is what the TSE refers to as a “transitional” measure that allows companies that don’t meet prime’s already loose listing standards to stay on by pledging to meet the criteria at some point in the future.
The Topix will remain, but the components will be tweaked in stages over several years. There will be 459 firms in the “growth” section, which will replace the Mothers and Jasdaq markets, and 1,477 in the “standard” section, according to an announcement in Tokyo on Tuesday.
Being on the TSE first section carries cachet in Japan and viewed as similar to being listed as a Fortune 500 company. That’s prompted some companies to strategize how to best position themselves.
Among those firms are e-commerce firm Market Enterprise Co., which has a market value of just over $32 million (¥3.7 billion), and Cominix Co., a machinery maker that booked $2.5 million in profit last year, both of which will be listed on prime.
The inclusion of relative minnows has prompted criticism that the revamp plans are too watered down to matter. The TSE has countered by saying that the initial reform is merely a “first step.”
“Today’s announcement is the starting line of a long road toward sustainable growth and medium— to long-term enhancement of corporate value,” TSE President Hiromi Yamaji told reporters on Tuesday.
Still, investors will likely shrug off Tuesday’s announcement as a procedural instead of fundamental change.
Until authorities “stop paying lip service to the reforms, we are unfortunately just shuffling paper,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners.
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