Sushi's Abenomics wave: posh tuna in, plain mackerel out

TOKYO Thu May 23, 2013 5:12pm EDT

A sushi chef serves sushi of high-quality fatty Atlantic bluefin tuna or ''o-toro sushi nigiri'' at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo March 18, 2010. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A sushi chef serves sushi of high-quality fatty Atlantic bluefin tuna or ''o-toro sushi nigiri'' at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo March 18, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - Investors in Japan might keep a close eye on sales of the homely horse mackerel as an early warning of any trouble ahead.

The good news is that in the more confident Japan of 2013, tuna remains king.

So says Mizuho Securities economist Kenta Ishizu, who believes he has found a leading indicator of Japanese consumer demand that relies on two of the most common items on a sushi menu: Japanese horse mackerel and tuna.

Ishizu was looking for patterns in Japanese consumer behavior that would point to the impact of "Abenomics" -- the monetary and fiscal stimulus central to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Horse mackerel, also called jack mackerel, or "aji" in Japanese, is an oily fish that is far cheaper than bluefin tuna or "maguro," the mainstay of sushi menus around the world.

Using data on household spending, Ishizu has developed a "Tuna-Mackerel Index", which shows how much the average Japanese family is spending on tuna relative to mackerel based on government-compiled data.

Remarkably, the index appears to have both anticipated the sharp decline in spending that followed the global financial crisis of 2008 and the stock market boom that came in late 2012 with hopes for Abenomics.

The sushi index has risen for two consecutive months, based on the most recent data for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. The March reading -- the most recent available - showed the largest percentage gain since August last year.

"There is a possibility here that consumer psychology is proving more resilient," Ishizu said in a research note for clients published this week.

A beef and pork pairing might have worked as well, but fears of mad cow disease a decade ago led to import restrictions on beef and health concerns that skewed the data, Ishizu said.

Meanwhile, consumer spending on "small extravagances" like sea urchin, or "uni", and musk melons have also been trending up since the middle of 2012. Even so, Ishizu said the gains could prove short lived.

"If consumers don't see higher wages and economic recovery that they can feel, there's a real risk that the tuna-mackerel index could come tumbling back down," he said. (Reporting by Taiga Uranaka)

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Comments (2)
VonHell wrote:
mmm perhaps something more evident (lol)
Supermarket sales fell 1.9% in one month… more than the usual fall due to the ageing population… affecting particulary convenience stores where the prices are higher than in supermarkets…
One could conclude that as people have to spend more on gasoline, eletricity and things with prices already higher due the yen, they avoid waste money on superfluous … in special on convenience stores…
Instead stopping every day on one of those… why not going once a week to the supermarket?… or buy on internet where prices are even cheaper or on one of those wholesale stores that are getting very popular these days…
Why pay 110 yen for a coffee can on a vending machine or convenience store if you can buy a box with 30 for 1400 on amazon?… less than 50% each…

The “sushi index” is only evidence of this: when things get tougher and tougher people (economists now included) begin to think about the little money wastes (like a cofee can or what kind of fish is on my sushi) they didn’t bother when they had plenty of 100 yen coins in their pockets…

May 23, 2013 6:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SanPa wrote:
And now the the US … enjoy fresh smelt tartar, at your grocer’s seafood counter, today.

May 25, 2013 6:27pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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