Award Banner
Award Banner

Former Japanese comedian gets second act as star investor

Former Japanese comedian gets second act as star investor
Toshiya Imura, 38, a comedian-turned-investor, poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, on Dec 26, 2022.
PHOTO: Reuters

TOKYO – Japan's newest star investor has no car or hobbies and rarely eats out. But Toshiya Imura has turned an obsession for stock research into US$42 million (S$55.5 million) in returns, giving the former comedian an enthusiastic fan base and a chance to launch his own fund.

After years as an investor and stock market YouTuber, the 38-year-old had a break-out moment last year when he figured in regulatory filings as a large shareholder of coal producers Sumiseki Holdings and regional lender First Bank of Toyama.

Small investors took notice and piled into the companies, which have become known as "Imura stocks". Shares of First Bank of Toyoma have nearly doubled over the last year, while Sumiseki's almost trebled. Tokyo's broad TOPIX index has fallen 6 per cent.

Mitsui Matsushima Holdings, another coal producer whose filing showed Imura as a major shareholder in 2021, has also seen its shares surge in the past year.

Imura's fans say his ability to drill into financial statements separates him from other investors.

"He's just incredibly good with his due diligence and analytical skills," said 51-year-old Yasumasa Yamada, who raised his holding in Sumiseki after learning of Imura's position.

"He doesn't simply read disclosures. He also analyses things that are hidden behind the numbers, such as how excess labour costs could weigh on long-term performance."

Like Buffett

Imura began investing in 2011, when he was working part-time to support his comedy gigs that paid just US$220 that year.

Starting with his savings of 1 million yen (S$10,300), he has more than doubled his returns each year since 2019. Returns trebled in 2022, for a total of about 5.5 billion yen so far.

Imura said he pores over company filings, looking for evidence of changes to the business environment or other factors the market may not yet have priced in.

"I devote all my waking hours to investment," he told Reuters in an interview. "I believe nobody else in Japan spends this much time on stocks."

He shut down his YouTube channel in 2020 to focus more on investing, he said.

Although much of his strategy is rooted in the value investing made famous by Warren Buffett – he cites Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor as an influence – Imura also looks for undervalued companies within a promising sector that are hidden from most investors' radar.

"Good business performance alone can't become alpha," he said, referring to the returns on an investment that exceed a benchmark.

Imura said he likes coal producers because he believes they have been undervalued by the focus on clean energy. Regional banks will remain attractive due to expectations of higher interest rates in Japan, he said.

His deep dive into financial reports and sector analyses is crucial, he said, as he prefers to concentrate on a few choice stocks rather than spreading his funds thin.

He also nudges companies for change, and in a recent victory – albeit a minor one – he got Mitsui Matsushima to move the time of its earnings release to the market's close, to give smaller investors more time to digest the numbers.

Mitsui Matsushima, Sumiseki and First Bank of Toyama all declined to comment when asked about Imura.

Going pro

He now plans to start his own fund this year, with some initial funding from his own wealth, and will team up with a former institutional investor he admires. He declined to name his future partner.

It will be called the "Japan Release Fund", with the idea being that it will unleash investment opportunities and benefits to Japanese households.

"I want my investment activities to have some sort of social meaning," he said.

The son of a professor, Imura became a comedian after graduating with a degree in systems engineering.

He later became one-third of the comedy act Shimbun, which means newspaper. In 2011, the group made it to the semi-finals of "King of Conte", a popular TV show that showcases up-and-coming comedians. They disbanded six years later.

Like the famously frugal Buffett, Imura is also thrifty, taking public transport in Tokyo and regularly eating eggs, bananas and "natto", or fermented soybeans, for their "cost performance".

ALSO READ: Why members of South Korea's Gen MZ are buying 'digital land' in the metaverse

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.