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This is a financial promotion for The First Sentier Japan Strategy. This information is for professional clients only in the EEA and elsewhere where lawful. Investing involves certain risks including:

  • The value of investments and any income from them may go down as well as up and are not guaranteed. Investors may get back sigfsnificantly less than the original amount invested.
  • Currency risk: the Fund invests in assets which are denominated in other currencies; changes in exchange rates will affect the value of the Fund and could create losses. Currency control decisions made by governments could affect the value of the Fund's investments and could cause the Fund to defer or suspend redemptions of its shares. 
  • Single country / specific region risk: investing in a single country or specific region may be riskier than investing in a number of different countries or regions. Investing in a larger number of countries or regions helps spread risk. Smaller companies risk: Investments in smaller companies may be riskier and more difficult to buy and sell than investments in larger companies.

For details of the firms issuing this information and any funds referred to, please see Terms and Conditions and Important Information.  

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If you are in any doubt as to the suitability of our funds for your investment needs, please seek investment advice.

FSSA Investment Managers: Japan - Automation and precision manufacturing

With Japan being a global leader in automation and precision manufacturing, and the rising trend of electric vehicles (EV), what are the “picks and shovels” opportunities in Japan?

Japan is among the leading countries for automation – Japanese companies make more than 50% of all industrial robots and computer-controlled systems globally. We own companies like Keyence, which makes sensors, laser markers and machine vision systems. Keyence has delivered excellent capital growth for investors. The company generates stable free cash flow, and both sales and net profit per employee are among the highest in the industry.

There are a few key reasons for its superior profitability metrics and long-term steady returns. Firstly, Keyence’s production is fabless (meaning it does not own factory plants) and its resources are concentrated in two areas: research and development (R&D), and sales and marketing. Due to its low fixed cost structure, Keyence generates high return on invested capital and earnings are typically resilient during a downturn. This also enhances its long-term competitiveness.

Secondly, Keyence’s direct sales model (as opposed to a distributor sales model), enables the company to benefit from a virtuous feedback loop with its clients. It has highly technical sales consultants that are able to innovate and design client-specific products. This translates into high (more than 80%) gross profit margins for the company.

We also own Murata Manufacturing, the world's largest multi-layer ceramic capacitor (MLCC) manufacturer with more than 50% global market share. MLCCs are core passive components in electronic circuits. The simple rule of thumb is that the increasing complexity of electronic devices means that more capacitors are required per device in order to reduce power loss. For example, according to our research, the number of MLCCs used in high-end 5G smartphones is estimated to be at least 30% higher than in an LTE or 3G phone.

Capacitors are also used in the automotive industry, which benefits from structural tailwinds in the growth of electric vehicles. Over the next five years, the outlook for the automotive MLCC market should be quite favourable, as the number of capacitors in an electric vehicle can be 5-6x higher than in a combustion engine vehicle.

In our view, Murata is a well-run company albeit in a cyclical industry. The business is cash generative, balance sheet is strong, management is conservative and the company is well-regarded by its customers. We believe Murata should be a structural beneficiary of the component upgrade trend.

Other examples include Hoya and Lasertec, which should benefit from the increasing adoption of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography in the semiconductor manufacturing process. Hoya has to 100% market share for the mask blanks used for EUV and Lasertec has close to a monopoly in EUV mask inspection systems.

Hoya has a strong profit-centric culture and its track record has been consistently good. Hoya generated 40-50% operating profit margin (OPM) on its products, as there is virtually no competition. As semiconductor leaders Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung start to migrate their chip production to more advanced and smaller nodes, we believe that average selling prices (ASPs) for Hoya’s EUV products should rise.

Lasertec is one of the largest semiconductor production equipment companies in Japan. The company is run by professional management and has a strong research & development (R&D) culture. As a result, it has been able to launch new products ahead of competitors. Return on equity (ROE) and operating margin is also among the top within the industry.

Important Information

This document has been prepared for informational purposes only and is only intended to provide a summary of the subject matter covered. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to give advice. The views expressed are the views of the writer at the time of issue and may change over time. This is not an offer document and does not constitute an offer, invitation or investment recommendation to distribute or purchase securities, shares, units or other interests or to enter into an investment agreement. No person should rely on the content and/or act on the basis of any material contained in this document.

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References to “we” or “us” are references to First Sentier Investors a member of MUFG, a global financial group. First Sentier Investors includes a number of entities in different jurisdictions. MUFG and its subsidiaries do not guarantee the performance of any investment or entity referred to in this document or the repayment of capital. Any investments referred to are not deposits or other liabilities of MUFG or its subsidiaries, and are subject to investment risk including loss of income and capital invested.

If this document relates to an investment strategy which is available for investment via a UK UCITS but not an EU UCITS fund then that strategy will only be available to EU/EEA investors via a segregated mandate account.

In the United Kingdom, issued by First Sentier Investors (UK) Funds Limited which is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority (registration number 143359). Registered office Finsbury Circus House, 15 Finsbury Circus, London, EC2M 7EB number 2294743. In the EEA, issued by First Sentier Investors (Ireland) Limited which is authorised and regulated in Ireland by the Central Bank of Ireland (registered number C182306) in connection with the activity of receiving and transmitting orders. Registered office: 70 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland number 629188. Outside the UK and the EEA, issued by First Sentier Investors International IM Limited which is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority (registered number 122512). Registered office: 23 St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 1BB number SCO79063.

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