Japan's panic: Lost in translation?
Tokyo's Nikkei has taken a big tumble due to the Livedoor scandal. Should U.S. investors worry too?
By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) Turmoil, shmurmoil.

The Japanese stock market may have taken a big dive during the past few days but so far, few market experts are worried about the possibility of a similar slump here at home.

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Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index has tumbled nearly 7 percent over the past three days, due largely to concerns about a criminal investigation of Japanese Internet company Livedoor.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange was even forced to close 20 minutes early on Wednesday because of a deluge of sell orders.

Still, some argue that the Nikkei was due for a pullback. The index was up more than 40 percent in 2005. So what's happened during the past few days, they say, is just a perfect example of momentum investors bailing out of a hot market.

"It's frightening if you chase performance. One reason why investors went into Japan is that they saw the markets perked up there," said Phil Dow, director of equity strategy with RBC Dain Rauscher.

As such, U.S. markets appeared to take Japan's problems largely in stride. Sure, stocks slipped on Wednesday morning but it was a relatively mild drop.

The Nasdaq initially sank nearly 1.7 percent at the open but recovered some ground and was down about 1.2 percent by the early afternoon. The Dow Jones industrial average and the broader S&P 500 each lost about 0.6 percent. (Full story).

Ed Yardeni, chief investment strategist with Oak Associates, a mutual fund firm based in Akron, Ohio, said the U.S. selloff had more to do with a spike in the price of oil to about $67 a barrel and earnings disappointments yesterday from tech bellwethers Yahoo! (Research) and Intel (Research) than the situation in Japan.

"We have our own problems that are hanging over this market so I don't think the developments in Japan matter that much," said Yardeni. "Here, the focus is more on rising energy prices once again and an earnings season that started off on the disappointing side."

U.S. investors have also shown a remarkable sense of aplomb lately following significant international news events. Last July, the markets initially dipped after the terrorist attacks in London but quickly rebounded, for example.

"It's rare that international markets wag our markets so I'd be less concerned about a dip in Japan or Europe. The resilience of the U.S. market is instructive right now," said Dow.

Still, investors were punishing the stocks of large well-known Japanese companies that trade in the U.S. on Wednesday morning.

Shares of automakers Toyota (Research) and Honda (Research) both lost about 1 percent.

Shares of camera and photocopier maker Canon (Research) slipped about 2.5 percent while shares of electronics manufacturer Matsushita (Research) were off more than 3 percent.

At the end of the day, U.S. investors may continue to view Japan's problems as being isolated to Japan.

"To a degree, the Japanese market has been marching to its own drummer for a number of years due to its economic difficulties," said Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist with Citigroup.

Levkovich added that he doubted the problems at Livedoor would cause U.S. investors to start questioning the accounting practices or earnings quality of prominent U.S. Internet stocks like Yahoo!, Google (Research), eBay (Research) or Amazon.com (Research).

The U.S. markets, after all, already experienced a crisis of confidence about earnings in the wake of Enron, Worldcom and other corporate fraud. And those problems led to the advent of stricter financial disclosure rules.

"We had accounting scandals in 2002 and there was a lot of clean-up thereafter," said Levkovich. "It's a different environment now."

And one fund manager suggested that even the downturn in Japanese stocks would be short-lived. Hayes Miller, global equity investment manager for Baring Asset Management in Boston, said in a statement Wednesday that the slump in the Nikkei was a "healthy correction" and added that "valuations in Japan ran ahead of themselves in the fourth quarter."

"There is no fundamental reason for the recent price declines," Miller said.

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For more about what's going on in international markets, click here.

Investors aren't cheering Yahoo! Click here.

For more on Intel's earnings miss, click here. Top of page

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