Why Has Japan’s Massive Government Debt Not Wreaked Havoc (Yet)?

Why Has Japan’s Massive Government Debt Not Wreaked Havoc (Yet)?

Charles Y. HoriokaTakaaki NomotoAkiko Terada-Hagiwara

NBER Working Paper No. 19596
Issued in October 2013
In this paper, we present data on trends over time in government debt financing in Japan since 2010 with emphasis on the importance of foreign holders and speculate about the determinants of those trends. We find that Japanese government securities were held primarily by domestic holders until recently because robust domestic saving (combined with strong home bias) made it possible for domestic investors to absorb most of the government debt but that foreign holdings of Japanese government securities have increased sharply in recent years, especially in the case of short-term government securities. We show that trends in foreign holdings of Japanese government securities can be explained by conventional economic factors such returns and risks and that the recent surge in foreign holdings of short-term Japanese government securities is attributable to foreign investors in search of a safe haven for their funds in the face of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09 precipitated by the Lehman crisis. Our analysis suggests that the surge in foreign holdings of Japanese government securities will subside (in fact, it already has), and this, combined with the projected decline in domestic saving (especially household saving) caused by population aging, will create increasing pressures for fiscal adjustment to reduce her massive government debt. Thus, Japan’s massive government debt has not resulted in high economic costs in the past because of robust domestic saving and a temporary inflow of foreign capital caused by the Global Financial Crisis, but it may have substantial costs in the future as both of these factors become less applicable unless the government debt can be brought under control.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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