Common Sense: Japan's Pain in the Assets

I want to close by talking about that trouble in Asia.

There are rising tensions and each side claiming the other should do more.

I'm talking, of course, about Japan.

The trouble is, everyone else is focused on China and this spy plane problem.

Now, don't get me wrong, China's a big worry. But for my money, Japan's an even bigger worry. Here's why: although it isn't getting much coverage now, Japan is a hurting puppy because every Japanese business has to change the way it does its business. Doesn't sound too riveting, does it? But wait, it gets better and unfortunately, scarier.

Starting April 1 major Japanese banks had to re-price pretty much everything on their books. So what, you say? Hold on.

Up until now, the stuff that's been on their books has been valued at the level it was bought—stocks and real estate that were originally purchased at the height of the market years and years ago. Some of those holdings are worthless now. It would be like valuing your 401k or pension plan at what it was last year at this time when the Nasdaq was flying and you were living large. You know full well that you aren’t living nearly as large this year.

Now a lot of Japanese institutions are finding out the exact same thing. It turns out they've got a major pain in the assets, because some of them don't even have any assets. But boy, do they have a lot of liabilities. They owe, more than they have. They are insolvent —in the red and now, in trouble.

Their options aren’t pretty: it's time to merge or be purged. It’s that simple, that nasty and that tough an adjustment. The fear is a lot of these guys will take their money out of this country to shore things up back in their country.

I'm not so sure. But of this I am sure: the China plane crisis will end but this Japanese crisis may have just begun.