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Economic Effect of Japan Quake to Largely Hit Insurance Companies, Regional Exposures

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In the wake of a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest felt by Japan since recordkeeping began some 140 years ago, impact on the market is expected to be limited, according to a Japanese market strategist.

Soichiro Monji, chief market strategist for Daiwa SBI, which manages the Japan Equity Fund, said in a statement that while the earthquake hit "a broad area of the eastern part of Japan," its impact on the Japanese economy was not considered "to be too serious because the damage is concentrated in the northeastern part of the country in the Tohoku prefecture and Tohoku's economy only accounts for around 6% of nominal GDP for all of Japan."

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The quake, which struck near the end of the trading day, kept fund managers in their offices as it shut down the entire subway system. However, according to Monji, Tokyo itself was spared the worst: "[T]he damage seems to be minimal. Although the ground shocks were bigger than any that I have experienced before, we have fortunately not seen any collapse of buildings, roads or bridges."

Monji said that the negative effects on the market should be limited, "as the overall economic damage caused is expected to be contained. While the Nikkei 225 declined almost 180 points [1.72%] on the back of today's earthquake, we expect it to regain any lost ground early next week."

He added that of sectors and stocks, insurers could be the most negatively affected because of anticipated claims payments in the wake of the damage. "In addition," he said, "banks and utilities whose businesses have higher exposure to the Tohoku prefecture might experience a sell off early next week as well."

Oil fell on world markets after the quake, with U.S. crude falling below $100 and Brent crude futures losing $1.16 to $114.27 per barrel, after dropping as low as $112.25. Gold lost ground, then steadied, and European shares fell to a 2011 closing low as insurers' stocks took a hit.


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