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Stocks

Toyota, megabanks add tens of thousands of shareholders

Toyota Motor shareholders line up to attend the automaker's annual general meeting in Toyota City, Japan, on June 15.

TOKYO -- Corporate Japan has seen the biggest one-year gain in retail shareholders on record, showing the changing face of stock ownership.

The increase of 3.62 million drove the total number of shareholders above 50 million for the first time, exchange data shows.

The stock exchanges' surveys could not aggregate shareholders by name, so the total contains double counting. A person holding stock in three different companies, for instance, is counted three times.

Several factors contributed to the rise in shareholders. Tax-advantaged NISA individual savings accounts have broadened stock ownership. Last November's listing of Japan Post Holdings as well as its banking and insurance units brought roughly 1.41 million retail investors into the market. In addition, the retail crowd's numerous contrarians apparently increased their holdings in Toyota Motor, megabanks and other blue chips during sell-offs since last summer.

Toyota's shareholder count grew by 190,000, or 37%, in the year to March 31. Nearly half of this gain owes to automaker's issuance of roughly 500 billion yen ($4.87 billion) in a new class of stock last July.

In return for being unable to sell for five years, holders of these shares in effect have their principal guaranteed. Toyota wanted to make retail shareholders a greater presence as a counterweight to the foreign investors holding roughly 30% of its stock. It has succeeded thus far -- individual shareholders grew by 90,000.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group saw increases of 10-20% in their shareholder counts. Retail investors seem to have picked up shares unloaded by foreign investors worried about the earnings impact of the Bank of Japan's move into negative interest rates.

One draw for investors is the megabanks' stable dividends and relatively generous payout ratios of between 3% and 5%, compared with an average of slightly more than 2% for the entire first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Trading house Mitsui & Co., which held its dividend steady despite suffering a net loss last fiscal year, gained roughly 90,000 shareholders.

Perks also helped lift share ownership. Orix started handing out gifts, such as olive oil, worth about 10,000 yen to investors who hold its shares for at least three years. The financial services group also paid an interim dividend for the first time and raised its yearly dividend. All this contributed to a 90% jump in shareholders in a single year. Oriental Land carried out a 4-for-1 stock split and lowered the minimum share ownership needed to receive free passes to Tokyo Disneyland.

The push by the TSE to standardize minimum trading units at 100 shares has lowered the threshold for retail investors entering the market. NSK's shareholder count doubled after the bearings maker cut its minimum trading unit from 1,000 shares, reducing the entry level for investment from around 1.7 million yen to roughly 170,000 yen. Hitachi Metals logged a 130% gain in shareholders after doing the same.

Sony and e-commerce group Rakuten expanded their shareholder rosters with capital increases of 300 billion yen and roughly 180 billion yen, respectively. Sushi restaurant operator Atom's investor count grew after its parent sold off shares in the unit.

(Nikkei)

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