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Foreign banks seize their chance

The news coming out of Japan has for a long time been wholly discouraging. Its economy has been on the operating table for the best part of 10 years. The government, unsure, unable or unwilling to make use of the scalpel, resorts to placing band-aids over gaping wounds. The cauterizing effect of injecting trillions of yen into the ailing system is also wearing off. Intermittent signs of recovery often prove no more than false dawns. And the country is running out of its self-prescribed medicine. But there are going to be some winners – quite possibly the foreign investment banks. As companies take it on themselves to restructure, or are forced to, those familiar vultures are circling overhead.

Tokyo: bankers say a plunge in the Nikkei may
be the best thing that could happen here

"The worse the economy gets, the more opportunity for us," proclaims a senior European banker. "And the best thing that could happen is for the Nikkei to plunge through the floor, say below 10,000, and stay there for a year. It would shake the hell out of the place." It's a sentiment held - although not often expressed in such strong terms - by many of the foreign bankers based in their impressive office blocks looking down across the sprawling mass of Tokyo.

Thierry Porté, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's tall and hawkish-looking president, takes a softer line - although not in his forthright delivery: "To an extent, the problems in the economy are creating a large number of opportunities. And they play to our strengths.

But it would be dangerous to say: 'Let's hope that these conditions prevail for a long period of time' because at some point things will become too difficult."

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