The aftershocks of the Japanese earthquake are still being felt around the world. People everywhere are reeling from the triple whammy of a massive earthquake, a terrifying tsunami and now the prospects of a nuclear accident.
The human misery is unimaginable, with thousands or even tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of people left homeless. On top of the devastation already unleashed on Japan, the drama continues at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The earthquake was enormous. By some accounts, it was the fifth strongest earthquake ever recorded. Most people by now have seen video of the giant wall of water pushing houses and cars along as entire towns were flattened.
At this moment, attention is focused on what has happened and what is likely to happen in the immediate future. That viewpoint includes a severe slowdown in parts of Japan. At present, and for the immediate future, the national electric grid is operating at a reduced rate. Fuel and many other necessities are in short supply as the infrastructure in parts of the country has been damaged.
Looking into the future, the view is less clear. While the media has highlighted the scenes of massive destruction, most of Japan has escaped with little damage. That country has been through numerous devastating earthquakes. Building where designed to withstand earthquakes and the country is generally prepared to react to such disasters. In much of the country, life is returning to normal.
After the shock of the disaster fades, media attention will begin to focus on the massive rebuilding effort. The initial analyst comments discussing the rebuilding effort referred to the already suffocating debt load of the Japanese government. Certainly, taking on even more debt will add further stress to the Japanese economy.
Investors should remember that much of the rebuilding will be funded by the insurance industry. A high proportion of the insurance will have been sourced within Japan. Over the coming months, reserves at those insurance companies will be drawn down to fund the reconstruction efforts. Some of the insurance proceeds will come from overseas, through international insurance companies and through reinsurance.
The net effect will be that the Japanese economy will receive a massive jolt of stimulus, perhaps measuring into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Beyond the immediate impact, that bout of rebuilding might just act as a catalyst to jolt the stagnant Japanese economy out of its decades-long slump.
Naturally, the Japanese disaster triggered big declines in stock values and commodity prices around the world. Most investors retreat from risk and uncertainty. At this time, there is a great deal of uncertainty with regard to Japan. Looking beyond the immediate situation, it is evident that share prices and commodity prices will recover. We see the present slump in the mining shares as a buying opportunity. It is impossible to know exactly when sentiment will rebound. I suspect the sentiment will change from horror to rebuilding sooner than most people expect.
The biggest drops in value have come in the uranium sector. That area is still too emotional and uncertain to try to figure it out at this time.
The base metal prices declined as investors, in a knee-jerk reaction, saw the slowdown in Japan reducing demand for metals. The reality is that the situation in Japan in the immediate term will have a very small impact on the global metals markets. Prices of the metals will rebound fairly quickly. The equities will follow.
The negative mood in the markets spilled over to the precious metals, but the drops in gold and silver were far less than for other commodities. In spite of the relative stability of the gold and silver prices, the equities of exploration and development companies were hit hard by investors fleeing uncertainty. Those dips in share prices represent outstanding opportunities.
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