10/15/2012

Japanese investors target Turkey

The Wall Street Journal - Turkey's economy, struggling under dwindling demand and investment from Europe amidst the chronic debt crisis embroiling its biggest trading partner, is getting a shot in the arm from an unlikely source: Japan.

Bilateral trade jumped 25 percent last year to a record USD 4.6 billion, while the number of Japanese companies opening offices in Istanbul hit 120 this year. No prior-year figures were available.

Japanese lenders are lining up to bid for Turkish banking licenses or entering joint ventures with local finance houses to profit from the booming consumer-lending market. Construction, logistics and automotive companies have begun building factories across the country, staking a longer-term claim on Turkey's success and helping boost local employment.

"The Japanese are seriously targeting Turkey," said Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan in Istanbul on September 20. "The Japanese are the slowest-moving people in the world. But once they reach a decision, they are always taking the right and rational steps."

On Friday, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Japan's biggest bank, decided to join forces with Turkiye Is Bankasi A.S., Turkey's biggest lender by assets, to provide wide-ranging services to Japanese concerns operating in Turkey, ranging from retail banking to credit cards, leasing and advising on mergers and acquisitions, according to Nikkei news agency.

Financial partnerships are coming back to back as the Istanbul branch of the Japan External Trade Organization hosted more than 100 companies in both May and July, when executives visited Turkey to scope out business opportunities, said Naohiko Yamaguchi, Managing Director of the government-backed organization known as Jetro.

"Now is the time for many Japanese companies to come to Turkey," Mr. Yamaguchi said in an interview. "Three years ago, big Japanese companies were considering Turkey as an investment, but they're very cautious and spend their time on research. Now investments are materializing one after another."

Among new investors in the country are Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd., which is spending USD 500 million on a tire factory, and Yusen Logistics Co., a unit of the world's second-biggest transportation company, Tokyo-based NYK Group.

"We believe that supplying tires from Turkey, which is nearer to the Mideast and African markets in addition to Europe, will enable us to reap enormous benefits in terms of lead times and transportation costs," said Sumitomo in a statement.

A key reason for the shift toward Turkey among Japanese investors, analysts say, is a positive reading of the country's fundamentals: a large domestic market, youthful population and relative political stability in comparison to other emerging markets like Indonesia and Russia.

Others eyeing the Turkish market include Japanese nuclear-power plant manufacturers and suppliers such as Toshiba Corp., which are increasingly turning their focus abroad after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant last year raised uncertainty about the future of nuclear power in Japan amid public concern about safety.

"We have kept to our aim of selling our nuclear-power technology across the world," a Toshiba spokesman in Tokyo said. The company said it is "very interested" in Turkey and has indicated to Ankara its interest in building a plant. The governments are in talks.
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