January 6, 2009 / 8:20 AM / 11 years ago

Japan stocks hope for best in ill-fated "Ox" year

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - If you thought things couldn’t get worse for Japanese stocks after their poorest performance ever in 2008, a tongue-in-cheek research report forecast this year to be grim as well because of its Chinese zodiac animal.

The report by private research company Daiwa Institute said that 2009 was an “Ox” or “Cow” year, which in the past has been disastrous for stocks. Japan’s economy has been forecast to slow down this year, on the back of the global recession.

“There’s a market saying that oxen stumble,” the report said.

In Japan, the New Year begins on January 1, like the Western calendar, while other countries in Asia are expected to ring in the Year of the Ox later in the month.

“The Nikkei has fallen an average of 11.4 percent over the past five Years of the Cow, the worst among all the animal zodiac years,” the Daiwa report said.

In 1973, an Ox year, the Nikkei plunged 17.3 percent for the year by a global oil crisis that rocked Japan.

The next round of the 12-year cycle, in 1985, saw the start of a sharp rise in the yen following the Plaza Accord, in which five leading economic nations agreed to depreciate the dollar against the yen and the German mark.

Though stocks gained 13.6 percent for the year, it was their poorest performance in the last half of the 1980s.

In 1997, Yamaichi Securities, one of Japan’s venerable “Big Four” securities firms, collapsed as the Asian financial crisis deepened. The Nikkei reeled, tumbling 21.2 percent.

Although some people in modern Japan cling to superstitions such as avoiding giving anything in groups for four, since one pronunciation of the word is a homonym for death, traders shrugged off talk of the coming year as mere speculation.

The Nikkei index has risen over 2 percent in the first two trading days of this year.

“Everybody knows about this, and it’s true that many years have been like this, but it’s no more than something interesting to talk about,” said Masayoshi Okamoto, head of dealing at Jujiya Securities in Tokyo.

Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Miral Fahmy

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